UPDATED 6:20 P.M., MARCH 16, 2018 WITH QUOTES FROM THE HUNTERS HERITAGE COUNCIL AND CONSERVATION NORTHWEST
Stop me if you’ve read this before, but Washington’s wolf population grew again in 2017, making it nine straight years.
According to WDFW’s just-released year-end count, there is a minimum of 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs across the state, though all but 16 of those animals are in the federally delisted third of Washington.
WDFW’s wolf specialist Ben Maletzke stressed that the numbers are base figures and that they help to show longterm trends. Since 2008, when the Lookout Pack was confirmed, wolf numbers have increased an average of 31 percent each year, though last year was up only 6 percent.
Mark Pidgeon, president of the Hunters Heritage Council and member of WDFW’s Wolf Advisory Group, said wolves are “firmly established” in Washington and it’s now time to start planning ahead.
“The Wolf Advisory Group’s single mission is to work on that post-delisting plan. More than ever, hunters, ranchers, and the conservation community have to come together for the common good. This post-delisting plan is where hunters have the most skin in the game. Before, it was protecting ranchers and agriculture. The post-delisting plan is where we need to make sure that hunting opportunities are protected.”
Among the new packs are Frosty Meadows on the eastern side of the Colville Reservation, Togo in northern Ferry County, Five Sisters between the Spokane Reservation and Spokane, Leadpoint in northern Stevens County and Grouse Flats in the southeastern Blue Mountains.
Though WDFW’s newest wolf map puts a green circle denoting a pack in eastern Skagit County, a presentation for the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s meeting tomorrow notes there is only one animal there. It also seems to indicate that suspicions there might be more wolves in the North Cascades couldn’t be confirmed.
Only one of the three packs in WDFW’s North Cascades zone successfully bred last year, the Teanaways.
To meet minimum recovery goals for state delisting, there have to four successful breeding pairs there as well as four in the Southern Cascades/Northwest Coast zone and Eastern Washington zones, plus three floating pairs for three straight years (the other formula is 18 in certain numbers for one year).
The eastern zone has 13 breeding packs alone, but there are none south of I-90, and despite intriguing reports from western Yakima and Kittitas, northern Skamania and eastern Lewis Counties, WDFW reports not finding any wolves here, though it’s entirely possible.
There’s been increasing pressure to move wolves out of the Northeast Washington, and a translocation bill jumped from the state House to the Senate and while it died there, lawmakers supplied WDFW with the funding to begin SEPA reviews towards that, with an update on that work due at the end of 2019.
As for other facts and figures from the commission presentation, 2017 saw six known dispersals of Washington wolves, animals that either moved elsewhere instate, up to British Columbia or — in the case of one — across northern Idaho into Montana, back into central Idaho, down to the edge of the Snake River Plain, up to Yellowstone and then off the map into Northwest Wyoming.
The state’s largest pack is the Carpenter, at 13 animals. WDFW captured 12 wolves in a dozen different packs last year, and monitored 22 in 15. Currently, 13 percent of Washington’s known wolves are collared.
In early 2017, WDFW launched a predator-prey study in key game-rich areas, the Methow, Colville and Pend Oreille River Valleys, collaring deer, elk and moose, and while expected to run through 2021, preliminary results aren’t very conclusive, as the cause of death for a half dozen muleys and wapitis wasn’t able to be determined.
Last year saw eight cattle depredations linked to four different packs, the Sherman/Profanities, Smackouts, Leadpoints and Togos. That represents the highest number of packs involved in livestock attacks, but also a dropoff in total depredations from 2016 levels.
To get ahead of conflicts, WDFW reports that the number of cost-share contracts and range riders afield last year was the highest yet, and triple 2015’s.
“As wolves have continued to recolonize wild areas of our state, Washington has engaged in a decision-making process rooted not in acrimony and moving goalposts, but in dialogue, a search for common-ground, and thoughtful collaboration so that we can have both healthy wolf packs and local communities that accept them,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest. “Tolerance for wolves in the rural areas where they reside is essential for long-term recovery. Forums including the state’s Wolf Advisory Group are leading to an increased understanding of wolf issues on all sides.”
As for managing wolves, the agency spent $1.27 million between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017 on deterrence ($543,575), population monitoring ($263,775), lethal removal ($135,094) and compensation ($57,752), among other costs.
Funding for all that work came from WDFW, state and federal monies and special license plate sales.