WDFW’s soon-to-arrive annual minimum wolf count may come with an asterisk.
The wolves roaming a sprawling North-central Washington reservation aren’t being tallied by tribal wildlife managers for the first time. About a fifth of the state’s known long-legged lopers lived there at the end of 2018.
Eli Francovich at the Spokane Spokesman-Review first reported the news on Sunday, writing that the Colville Tribes “decided not to invest resources into the count because it ‘considers the wolves recolonized,'” according to WDFW’s statewide wolf specialist Ben Maletzke.
Wolves could certainly be considered recolonized not only on the reservation but all of the Evergreen State’s northeastern and southeastern mountains and forests, where they’re also federally delisted.
But it also means that WDFW’s 2019 year-end minimum count could come in fairly close to 2018’s — 126 wolves — suggesting little to no growth.
That potentially could lead to false alarm bells being raised about the state of the state’s wolves — that their numbers are flatlining.
They’re also gunning for WDFW and its wolf management through a series of court lawsuits challenging lethal removal protocols. Eighty percent of the state’s wolves annually stay out of trouble but there have been chronic wolf-livestock conflicts in the Kettle Range of northern Ferry County, including the removal of an entire pack, the OPTs, last summer.
So at a minimum, how many wolves might be out there now be in Washington?
For that 2018 count, the five packs on the Colville Reservation accounted for 21 percent of all wolves in Washington, 26 animals — seven in the Strawberry Pack, six in both the Frosty and Nason Packs, four in the Nc’icn Pack and three in the Whitestone Pack.
That means the other 100 known wolves were elsewhere in the state.
With the 28 percent annual growth rate Washington has otherwise seen, it’s possible the 2019 population outside the reservation could grow from 100 to 128, give or take.
Using that same growth rate for the Colville wolves would yield a new population estimate of ~33 there, up from 26.
Combine 128 and 33 and you get an overall statewide tally of — at the very least — 161 wolves.
However, that seems unlikely as the packs are already well packed into the best available wolf country in Northeast Washington, according to Dr. Paula Swedeen of Conservation Northwest, leaving less room for such strong growth.
They’re also hunted year-round by the Colvilles on and off their reservation.
While Swedeen said her organization is “anxious” to see the new tally and learn to what degree wolves have expanded their range in the state — so far there are no confirmed packs in the South Cascades — overall she’s optimistic about wolf numbers and the “relatively low level of conflict” in Washington versus other states at the same point in the species’ recolonization.
As for how to communicate WDFW’s 2019 count without numbers from the Colvilles?
“We support the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife putting out reasonable estimates of the actual population, above these minimum numbers,” she suggested in a statement forwarded to Northwest Sportsman.