The numbers don’t match what hunters are tallying online, but for what it’s worth, WDFW estimates that there were at least 27 individual wolves and three breeding pairs in Washington as of Dec. 31, 2011.
That’s eight more wolves and two more successful pairs than at the end of 2010.
The agency released news about its annual count after aerial flights and field monitoring last month.
AN AERIAL SHOT TAKEN AROUND CHRISTMAS SHOWS AT LEAST EIGHT MEMBERS OF THE DIAMOND PACK OF CENTRAL PEND OREILLE COUNTY, WASH. (WDFW)
Overall there are at least five packs in the state, including two new ones confirmed early last summer. WDFW tallied their populations thusly:
Diamond Pack, in Pend Oreille County and Idaho, numbers 10 wolves, including a breeding pair with at least two pups. A 2-year-old, radio-collared, female wolf was legally trapped and killed in Idaho in December before the count was made. Another radio-collared female from the pack was last located in November in Idaho and is currently missing; a third radio-collared female remains with the pack.
Smackout Pack, in Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, numbers five wolves, including a successful breeding pair with three pups. None have radio collars.
Salmo Pack, in Pend Oreille County and British Columbia, includes three wolves. One wolf with a VHF radio collar is still being monitored.
Teanaway Pack, in Kittitas County, numbers seven wolves, including a successful breeding pair with at least two pups. The breeding female is equipped with a GPS radio collar and still is being monitored.
Lookout Pack, in Okanogan County includes two wolves with no pups; neither has a functioning radio collar.
The actual number of wolves in the state is higher still as WDFW acknowledges there is evidence of packs in the Blue Mountains and the Hozomeen area of upper Ross Lake as well as “transient” wolves wandering the landscape. Northwest Sportsman learned recently of one hanging out just east of Palmer Lake.
A pack is two or more wolves traveling together while a breeding pair is an adult male and adult female and two pups that survive to year end. Breeding pairs are the standard measure used to determine recovery.
To delist the species from state protections under WDFW’s recently approved management and recovery plan, there must be at least 15 successful breeding pairs documented for three consecutive years among three wolf-recovery regions (four pairs in Eastern Washington, four pairs in North Cascades, four pairs in South Cascades/Northwest Coast, and three pairs in any recovery region), or 18 pairs in any single year.
“The countdown is on,” said agency spokeswoman Madonna Luers in Spokane early this afternoon. “We’ve got a number to shoot for and we’re counting them.”
Diamond and Smackout are in the Eastern Washington region while Teanaway is in the North Cascades region (see below for a map of the regions).
WDFW’s numbers for the five packs aren’t that much different than those posted on outfitter Dale Denney’s Hunting-Washington — a tally there puts it at 28. But based on hunter reports, the site puts the statewide figure over 100.
Some of those come from the Southern Cascades region, where just this past fall howling was heard at Conrad Meadows and tracks were seen east of Rimrock Lake. WDFW wildlife biologist Jeff Bernatowicz has heard of other reports in his district the past few years — he says 2011’s reports were actually down from previous years — but he has yet to see any wolves in western Yakima County nor spotted any on the winter range chasing crippled game or late-born elk.
“‘Three-legged elk,’ spotted calves — when I don’t see any anymore, that’s going to be an indication” some wolves are around, he said last week.
About the 27, the agency’s wildlife diversity program manager Rocky Beach says, “This is what we can confirm. Are there likely more? The answer is ‘Yes.'”
But he says there’s probably not a lot more. He explains that, based on what’s been seen in other Northwestern states, there’s less “noise” in a relatively small population of wolves.
Still, it is imperative that hunters continue to report sightings, tracks, howls, etc., to WDFW to create those “clusters” of sightings that lead the agency to send out their trapper. To report possible wolves, call (877) 933-9847.
It is also imperative that WDFW secure more funding for wolf work — there’s $305,000 in Governor Gregoire’s proposed supplemental budget for monitoring and livestock work, a figure that was upped from the $150,000 initially asked for by Director Phil Anderson after the department made a “strong argument” in October it would go towards hiring a staffer to work with livestock interests — and pay more attention to game herds in Northeast Washington.
This is at least the third straight year that Washington’s wolf population has grown.
At the end of 2009, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated there were at least 12 animals.
At the end of 2010, the Feds pegged it at at least 19.
While the Lookout Pack had pups in 2008 and 2009, in 2010 only the Diamond Pack had more than two survive to the end of the year.
With the exit of OR7 for California late last week, Oregon’s statewide population stands at a minimum of two dozen with four packs. Although all four reproduced in 2011, only one, Walla Walla, produced more than one pup and it is considered the state’s only breeding pair at the moment. However, spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy says that the numbers could change.
“There could very well be more, but based on hard evidence, we have 24,” she says.
Download ODFW’s 2011 annual report here.
Over in Idaho, just under 200 have been legally killed and trapped in that state’s seasons.
WDFW has also updated its wolf page to show more information about each pack. Timelines for each as well as some new photos have been added, including several aerial shots of Diamond at rest, and a tunnel in the Lookout Pack’s den near Twisp.
LOOKOUT PACK DEN TUNNEL IN OKANOGAN COUNTY – JULY 2009. (UNATTRIBUTED IMAGE)
A SCREEN GRAB SHOWS SOME OF WDFW'S NEW WOLF INFORMATION PAGES, THIS ONE FEATURING TALLIES BY PACK AND RECOVERY REGION.