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Washington Gray Wolf Count Shows Growth For 14th Straight Year


Washington’s Gray Wolf population has continued to grow for the 14th year in a row, according to the Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2022 Annual Report. The report, which was released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), shows a 5% increase in wolf population growth from the previous count in 2021, with 216 wolves counted in 37 packs in Washington as of Dec. 31, 2022. The WDFW also documented Washington’s first pack to recolonize the south Cascades this winter.

“The growth we’re observing in the North Cascades continues to be encouraging, and having a pack become established in the South Cascades is a big step toward recovery of wolves in Washington,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “The goal has been for wolves to spread into all three recovery zones, and we are pleased to see their progress in recolonizing their former range.”

In 2022, eight new wolf packs formed, including the Big Muddy pack in Klickitat County, the Napeequa and Maverick packs in Chelan County, the Chopaka and Chewuch packs in Okanogan County, the Wilmont pack on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CTCR) in Ferry County, the Five Sisters pack in Stevens County, and the Mt. Spokane pack in Spokane County. Since the first WDFW survey in 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown by an average of 23% per year.

Wolves in Washington are counted annually through activities like track, aerial, and camera surveys. However, since survey results represent minimum counts of wolves in the state, the actual number of wolves in Washington is higher, and the growth rate could be even more significant.

According to the report, most wolf packs were not involved in documented livestock depredation in 2022, with 81% of them not involved in any known or probable livestock depredations. “Implementation of proactive, nonlethal deterrence efforts by livestock producers, community partners, range riders, and WDFW staff has minimized documented livestock depredation and removal of wolves, all while our wolf population continues to grow,” said WDFW Wolf Policy Lead Julia Smith.

Since 1980, gray wolves have been listed under state law as endangered throughout Washington. In January of 2021, wolves were federally delisted from federal Endangered Species Act protection, and WDFW resumed statewide management of the species. However, wolves were federally relisted in the western two-thirds of the state in February 2022, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has once again taken the lead role in the recovery of wolves in the North Cascades and the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery regions.

The report also acknowledges the contribution of various tribes and agencies to the conservation and management of wolves in the state. Contributors to WDFW’s annual wolf report include the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, Swinomish Tribe, Yakama Nation, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Room For Improvement

The Wolf Conservation Center is thrilled to hear about the continued growth of Washington’s Gray Wolf population. We applaud the efforts of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and all the tribes and agencies involved in conserving and managing this magnificent species. We look forward to further progress in the recovery of wolves in Washington, which is crucial to maintaining the health and balance of our ecosystems.

All that said, there are some wolf management practices, which we’ve written about in the past, that we still think Washington FWS could tweak.

Despite Governor Jay Inslee’s plea to halt wolf killing, WDFW has been killing wolves since 2012, and multiple wolf families have been targeted as recently as October 2022. The governor acknowledged that the potential for future depredations and lethal control actions under the existing framework remains unacceptably high. Killing wolves to deter depredation on cows is ineffective and can even result in increased attacks, according to science.

Washington’s actions have created a vicious cycle in which nobody wins, and wolves pay the ultimate price. The WDFW is attempting to right their wrong, and has yet to use lethal removal in 2023. Governor Inslee has urged WDFW to initiate new wolf management rulemaking to establish a new model of coexistence. However, over the years some wolf families have been completely decimated. Killing wolves to stop conflicts with cattle has failed repeatedly, and we hope that Washington continues to take steps in the right direction so these wolf numbers continue their yearly increase.