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Washington's wolves

Wolves have returned home on their own to Washington, after more than 70 years' absence. A state wolf recovery plan and funding for conflict prevention tools help them recover.

Lookout wolf pups, 2008. Captured on Conservation Northwest remote camera
Lookout wolf pups, 2008. Captured on Conservation Northwest remote camera

Canis lupus

Early settlers described gray wolves as common to Washington and speculated that one or more wolf packs may have made their homes in each of the major river valleys in the state. By the 1900s, after years of animosity towards predators and government-sponsored bounty payments, wolves were gone from much of the Northwest.

Welcome home, Washington's wolves

That changed in the 2000s as wolves started coming back naturally to Washington from wolf populations in British Columbia and Idaho. In 2008, cameras operated by a Conservation Northwest Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Program volunteer captured the first images of wolf pups born in Washington in nearly a century.

As of the summer of 2014, the Washington State Department of Wildlife estimates there are a minimum of 52 wolves in Washington, with 13 confirmed packs. However, the future of Washington's wolves is not yet assured, and their recovery is still precarious. 

Conservation Northwest believes Washington can be the state where natural wolf recovery works in the long run; for people, wolves and all the Northwest’s wildlife. But to achieve this goal it will take hard work, respect and compromise from stakeholders on all sides.

Protection status

Gray wolves are currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of Washington state, which includes the Lookout, Teanaway and Wenatchee Packs of the Cascades. Though state protections remain, wolves have been federally delisted in the eastern third of Washington state. 

Management of the species is governed by the state's Wolf Management Plan until the species hits recovery objectives for breeding packs and overall wolf numbers. 

What we are doing

Conservation Northwest is the premier group working on recovery of Washington's wolves. We have:

  • Gained $1 million for wolf-livestock conflict prevention in Washington State
  • Sale of special license plates to fund conflict prevention and tools started in October 2013
  • Current funding of three range riders in Washington, following the successful first range rider in 2012
  • In 2013, continue to serve on a working group advising WDFW on implementing the state’s wolf plan
  • Helped shape the 2011 wolf plan, serving on a governor-appointed Wolf Working Group and organizing citizens to speak up for science-based recovery
  • Defeated state legislation harmful to wolves

Together we can recover wolves in the Northwest, protect and connect habitat, and secure a future for this important wild predator. We are:

  • Actively monitoring wolf packs around the state
  • Hosting educational forums for ranchers and landowners, and presentations on learning to live with wolves
  • Helping stop poaching, by training citizen "Eyes in the Woods", posting reward flyers and contributing to a reward fund to deter poachers

More on wolves

  • Canis lupus, the gray wolf, is the largest of the canines, 2 to 3 times the size of a coyote.
  • Wolves once lived around the state, including the Olympic Peninsula, where their loss has led to big changes in the courses of rivers, vegetation, and other wildlife.
  • Wolves have excellent hearing and a keen sense of smell. They hunt and socialize in family groups known as packs.
  • Washington has a known population of about 50-100 wolves, distributed now in 10 confirmed packs around the state.
  • Some of the wolves documented in the Cascades have had their DNA traced to wolves in coastal British Columbia. They have also been documented eating salmon!
  • Sprawl and development spells loss of habitat for wolves and their prey; but overall, the greatest threat to wolves is people's fear and misunderstanding about them.
  • More than 75% of Washington residents queried in a 2008 wildlife poll supported recovery of Washington's wolves
  • As a top carnivore, the gray wolves, along with other predators such as the bears and cougars, control prey populations so that a landscape may support a healthy ecosystem.
  • Wolves play a vital role in maintaining the health of big game by culling sick animals and promoting stable ungulate populations. Biologists tell us that herds of big game - from elk to deer - are healthier with wolves in the habitat than without.
  • Wolves, which returned on their own to Washington, are also coming back to Oregon and, so far, a single wolf to California.
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