The number of Washington wolf packs jumped by four last year, though the minimum number of known wolves in the state increased by just one over 2012.
State wolf managers today briefed the Fish & Wildlife Commission and said there are at least 52 wolves in 13 packs, five of which were classified as all-important successful breeding pairs, and two of those in the Northern Cascades recovery area — including Lookout again after a three-year pause caused by poachers
The new packs are known as Dirty Shirt, Carpenter Ridge and Ruby Creek, and represent spinoffs from the Smackout Pack of Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties, according to WDFW. Each pack has two wolves, which is the definition of a pack.
The other new pack, Wenatchee, which was confirmed earlier in 2013, is believed to be two female Teanaway wolves traveling with each other.
“While we can’t count every wolf in the state, the formation of four new packs is clear evidence of steady growth in Washington’s wolf population,” said WDFW’s Donny Martorello in a press release. “More packs mean more breeding females, which produce more pups.”
This year WDFW did not officially give a maximum potential wolf number like last year’s 101, which represented mathematically how many could be here based on what had been seen in the Northern Rockies.
Today’s unveil comes just after breeding season and about a month after a GPS-collared wolf was found dead in northern Stevens County.
At the end of 2012 there were a minimum of 51 wolves in nine packs of which five were classified as successful breeding pairs. That was a sharp jump up from a minimum of 27 in five packs and two breeding pairs in 2011.
Montana saw a similar pause in the total number of wolves when its population reached the 50-wolf mark, according to a graph in the latest issue of Montana Outdoors magazine.
Oregon’s known wolf population at the end of 2013 is 64 individuals, eight packs and four successful breeding pairs.
Wolves are federally delisted in the eastern third of Washington but state-listed everywhere. To reach WDFW’s recovery goals requires at least four successful breeding pairs — two adults and two pups — that survive to the end of the year for three straight years (plus three more packs anywhere) in each of the state’s three wolf zones. Though there have been recent reports from the Southern Cascades recovery zone, today’s report doesn’t show any there.
According to WDFW, 11 of the state’s wolves wear GPS collars, which help track their whereabouts and help keep them out of the cows. The agency reports that wolf conflicts were down from 2012, which was a busy year, primarily in the Wedge. Of 20 depredations looked into last year, wolves were confirmed to be to blame in four, which involved three dogs and one calf.
Jack Field of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association is happy with WDFW’s work with ranchers so far, saying there have been lots of good meetings and the agency has been following through on its promises.
“Thus far I think they’re doing a great job,” Field says.
He does say he’d like to see more study on wolf-ungulate impacts (an interesting project is going on in North-central Washington), and is troubled by recent attempts by pro-wolf groups to get WDFW to tweak the wolf management plan.
In February the agency was chided for protocols it’s developing for removing problem wolves and earlier this week the Washington Wolf Collaborative all but demanded WDFW withdraw its support for federal delisting — and write a letter to USFWS recanting it. Slides from today’s presentation, which has been posted online, would seem to indicate that WDFW won’t be doing that any time soon.
Conservation Northwest wasn’t part of that latter letter, but its executive director Mitch Friedman was happy with today’s wolf figures.
“We’re very pleased by the continued recovery and the low amount of conflict. We’re proud of our role in helping model coexistence with wolves, including the successful Smackout and Teanaway packs. We hope this year we’ll see packs established in the South Cascades, putting us closer to meeting the recovery goals of the plan,” he said.
Wolf groups are trying to make hay of criticism of taxonomic classifications in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed countrywide delisting, holding out hope that wolves from British Columbia’s coast like the one that brazenly hauled a pet dog out of a Vancouver Island village recently will colonize Washington, but WDFW’S presentation states that given the dispersal abilities of the state’s and wolves in the Northern Rockies, it’s likely those will fill the available habitat.
Field says that going forward there will be tough challenges and impacts, but the key was to find a way to minimize those so wolves don’t disproportionately affect livestock producers and sportsmen.
Other notable details from the presentation:
According to WDFW, it spent over $530,000 on wolf work last year with the biggest chunks of that for staff and goods and services. Of that, $364,000 came from personalized and Orca license plate sales and $167,000 from federal funding.
A map shows the location of five wolves that were killed last year, three in the Cascades, two on the Spokane Indian Reservation. We’ve reported on four of the five but the second from the reservation is new.
For more on the 2013 count see Rich Landers’ breakdown of how one pro-wolf group is characterizing the news as well as the Associated Press’ take. Also see Rich’s superb photojournalism on the capture of the first Ruby Creek female last summer and posted on the Spokesman-Review website today.
The following is a WDFW News Release:
State’s wolf population kept expanding last year, according to WDFW survey
MOSES LAKE – Gray wolves established four new packs and expanded their territory in the state over the past year, state wildlife managers told the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission at a public meeting here today.
That assessment was based on an annual survey by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) that confirmed the presence of 13 wolf packs, five successful breeding pairs and at least 52 individual wolves in 2013.
Donny Martorello, WDFW carnivore specialist, said the latest findings point to continued growth in the state’s wolf population under state and federal recovery plans.
“While we can’t count every wolf in the state, the formation of four new packs is clear evidence of steady growth in Washington’s wolf population,” he said. “More packs mean more breeding females, which produce more pups.”
All but eliminated from western states in the last century, wolves are now protected under Washington law throughout the state and under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state.
The commission, an appointed panel that sets policy for WDFW, approved the plan in 2011 that guides state management and recovery of wolves in Washington.
In developing its annual update, WDFW used a combination of aerial surveys, trackers and signals from 11 wolves fitted with active radio-collars, Martorello said.
Three of the new packs – Ruby Creek, Dirty Shirt and Carpenter Ridge – were formed by wolves that split off from the existing Smackout Pack in northeast Washington, he said.
A fourth new pack, the Wenatchee Pack, appears to be made up of two female wolves from the Teanaway Pack, whose territory stretches between Ellensburg and Wenatchee.
Under the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, a wolf pack is defined in the state plan as two or more wolves traveling together.
Despite their growing numbers, wolves were involved in far fewer conflicts with humans and livestock in 2013 than in the previous year, Martorello said.
Stephanie Simek, WDFW’s wolf conflict-resolution manager, said the department investigated 20 reported attacks on pets and livestock last year, but found that wolves were actually involved in only four of them. Confirmed wolf attacks left one calf dead and three dogs injured, she said.
By comparison, wolves killed at least seven calves and one sheep in 2012, leaving six additional calves and two sheep injured, Simek said. Most of those attacks were made by the Wedge Pack on a single rancher’s cattle in northeast Washington, she said.
WDFW ultimately killed seven members of the Wedge Pack to stop the escalating series of attacks, although two wolves were still travelling as a pack in the same area in 2013, she said.
“That was an extraordinary event that we do not want to repeat,” said Martorello, noting that no wolves were killed by WDFW last year.
The 2013 survey does, however, reflect the death of five wolves, due to causes ranging from a car accident on Blewett Pass to a legal hunt on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
Simek outlined several steps WDFW has taken in the past year to reduce conflicts with wolves:
Cooperative agreements: The department entered into cost-sharing agreements with 29 livestock producers, who have made a commitment to take proactive steps to avoid conflicts with wolves. Typical strategies include improving fencing and sanitation, employing range riders and using non-lethal hazing methods to repel wolves.
Increased staffing: WDFW created a new 13-member Wildlife Conflict Section to work with livestock producers, landowners and entire communities to avoid conflicts with wolves. Seven of those positions were new hires in 2013.
Wolf Advisory Group: A new nine-member advisory group was established to recommend strategies for encouraging more livestock owners to enter into cooperative agreements, providing compensation for wolf-related economic losses, and other issues. Members of the group represent hunters, livestock producers and conservation groups.
“These actions have greatly improved the department’s ability to manage our growing wolf population and meet state recovery goals,” Martorello said.
Under the state’s wolf-management plan, wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list once 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among three designated wolf-recovery regions – or 18 successful breeding pairs in one year among three designated wolf-recovery regions.
A successful breeding pair is defined as an adult male and female with at least two pups that survive until the end of the calendar year.
In 2013, WDFW documented three successful breeding pairs in the Eastern Washington recovery region and two pairs in the North Cascades recovery region. No wolf packs or breeding pairs have been documented on the South Cascades/Northwest Coast recovery region.
Meanwhile, the federal listing of gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act is currently under review. In June 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to delist gray wolves nationwide. A decision is expected by the end of 2014.
An overview of the 2013 wolf survey is posted on WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/. A full report will be available on that site by April 4, 2014.