Washington wolf population continues to rise, report shows

In 2021, four new wolf packs were documented in four different counties.

Washington’s wolf population continues to show growth for the 13th consecutive year, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

The department published its annual Washington wolf population report on April 9, which shows a 16% increase in the state’s wolf population in 2021 from the previous count in 2020.

“Washington’s wolves continue to progress toward recovery, with four new packs documented in four different counties in the state in 2021,” said Kelly Susewind, WDFW director.

As of Dec. 31, 2021, the WDFW along with partner agencies and tribes counted 206 wolves in 33 packs in the state, with 19 successful breeding pairs.

This is up from 178 wolves in 29 packs and 16 breeding pairs in the 2020 count. The department also found that pack sizes ranged from two to 10 wolves, with most packs having three to six members.

WDFW began documenting Washington’s wolf population in 2008. It has grown by an average of 25% per year.

Four new packs were formed in 2021: the Columbia Pack in Columbia County, the Keller Ridge Pack in Ferry County, the Dominion Pack in Stevens County, and the Shady Pass Pack in Chelan County.

During the survey, the Naneum Pack was not located. WDFW claims two collared pack individuals left their turf in November, with one travelling through the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast Recovery area, and the other joining the Stranger Pack in Northeast Washington. As a result, the Naneum Pack was removed from the tally.

In the 2021 tally, 67% of known Washington wolf packs were not involved in any known livestock depredation. However, eight packs were involved in livestock depredation, with six out of the eight packs being involved in two or fewer events each.

The results of livestock depredation from 2021 include two wolves from the Columbia Pack being lethally removed — one by WDFW and one by a landowner with a permit to lethally remove a wolf, according to WDFW.

“Although wolf-livestock interactions have remained consistent, we recorded the lowest number of livestock depredation incidents in the state since 2017 and removed the fewest wolves in response to conflict since 2015,” said Julia Smith, policy lead for WDFW.

Smith mentioned the department is committed to promoting the use of non-lethal deterrents to decrease wolf-livestock conflict.

WDFW documented a total of 30 wolf mortalities in 2021, including the two that were lethally removed due to livestock conflict. Twenty-two wolves were also harvested by tribal hunters, four were killed by vehicles, and two mortalities remain under investigation.

Department investigators confirmed that five cattle were killed by wolves last year, and another eight were confirmed injured by wolves. An additional two calf mortalities and six calf injuries were considered probable depredations by wolves following investigations.

Washington’s wolf population was nearly eliminated in the 1930s, according to WDFW. Since 1980, gray wolves are listed as endangered under Washington state law.

In January 2021, wolves were delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act, and WDFW resumed statewide management of the species.

By February 10 this year, wolves were federally relisted in the western two-thirds of the state.

Contributors to the annual Washington wolf population report include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the National Park Service, and the Spokane Tribe of Indians, among others.

Known wolf packs and single wolf territories in 2021 in Washington. Map does not include unconfirmed or suspected packs, or border packs from other states and provinces. Courtesy of WDFW

Known wolf packs and single wolf territories in 2021 in Washington. Map does not include unconfirmed or suspected packs, or border packs from other states and provinces. Courtesy of WDFW