Washington wildlife managers say that wolf numbers increased yet again, marking a tenth straight year of growth, with new packs popping up in Skagit, Kittitas and Columbia Counties and on and near the Colville Reservation.
They report that there were a minimum of 126 wolves in 27 packs with 17 successful breeding pairs at the end of 2018, up from 122, 22 and 14.
The rise occurred once again despite tribal hunting and state removals to head off livestock depredations.
State wolf policy manager Donny Martorello did call the 2 percent growth “modest,” but said that the increase in breeding pairs in the North Cascades to three was important.
“We’re pleased we’re taking another step towards the recovery objective. The local recovery objective is four,” he said.
It was expected in some quarters including this one that the 2018 annual count would be significantly higher based on the work of Dr. Samuel Wasser in Northeast Washington and the South Cascades.
His scat-sniffing dogs found evidence of 60 different wolves in Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties during a timeframe that WDFW’s official count listed a minimum of 30.
But Martorello said that Wasser and WDFW were largely working at opposite ends of the wolf population cycle, the University of Washington researcher after litters were on the ground and wolf numbers were highest, and the state agency in the dead of winter, which can see 50 to 60 percent mortality among young-of-the-year animals.
“We’re doing a minimum count when the population is lowest,” he said.
Minimum also means the animals that they can visually count out of aircraft or on trail cams, though they use a 12 percent expansion factor to account for dispersers.
Speaking of, one of the six new packs was formed in the upper Skagit Valley when the male that’s been hanging out near Marblemount since 2018 was joined by a female this winter. The duo are being called the Diobsud Pack, after a local stream.
It’s being termed the first pack west of the Cascade Crest, though several wolves ran in the border-straddling Hozomeen area of the upper upper Skagit a few years ago, though apparently didn’t den in Washington, the official metric for determining residency.
The new Butte Creek Pack runs in the Blue Mountains and includes one that dispersed from elsewhere in the state, and the Naneum Pack is in northeast Kittitas County.
And the Nason, OPT for Old Profanity Territory, and Sherman Packs are on or north of the Colville Reservation.
That upper right quarter of Washington is already positively thick with wolves, though the Five Sisters Pack broke up “due to unknown reasons.”
That didn’t much worry Martorello, who said that with recovery goals long ago surpassed, the year to year fluctuations were a sign of “normal ecological changes.”
Indeed, the report underscores yet again that wolves are doing quite well in Washington and are likely to continue to do so, and it will be taken into account as WDFW reviews the status of the species and its robustness.
That process will begin in May and will use Washington wolf data instead of other states’ to update population models. It will also incorporate mortality and fecundity data.
Based on that review, WDFW will make a recommendation to the Fish and Wildlife Commission next February on whether gray wolves’ continued state ESA listing is warranted or not.
Well down the road, that could potentially lead to hunting opportunities similar to those already enjoyed by members of the Colville and Spokane Tribes.
Earlier this year, federal wildlife overseers announced they would propose delisting packs in the western two-thirds of the Washington as well as Oregon and elsewhere in the Lower 48.
More details on the annual count will come out tomorrow as WDFW managers present it to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, but other details from the agency’s press release today include:
- Along with the disperser that’s part of the Butte Creek Pack, another Washington wolf left the state and headed through Oregon and into Idaho (this winter, a Montana wolf was also spotted on the Palouse);
- At least 12 wolves died in 2018, six taken during tribal hunting seasons, four (two OPTs, one Togo, one Smackout) killed by WDFW after repeated livestock depredations in the federally delisted third of the state; and two that are being investigated;
- Since wolves were first confirmed as returning to Washington in 2008, their numbers have increased 28 percent a year, and that is likely to continue as the population in the Cascades growsk, managers say;
- WDFW and 31 ranches had cost-sharing agreements to protect livestock herds;
- Five packs depredated on at least one farm animal in 2018, with 11 confirmed cattle and one sheep deaths and 19 cattle and two sheep injured by wolves;
- And WDFW reports it processed damage claims totaling $7,536 for wolf-caused losses and $5,950 for an “indirect” claim for reduced weight gain or other wolf-related interactions.
Researchers have been looking into the impact of wolves on important hunting species, with University of Washington scientists earlier this year reporting that muleys are moving higher up in the mountains of North-central Washington to avoid the predators (though also closer to cougars).
WDFW is also in year three of its five-year Predator-Prey Project in the Okanogan and Northeast Washington.