All but once wiped out in the lower 48 states, gray wolves are returning to Washington state and their home range around the West.
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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 all major river valleys in the state.
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By the early 1900s, after years of animosity towards predators and government-sponsored bounty payments, wolves were gone from Washington and much of the Northwest, along with nearly all of the region's large predators, including grizzly bears.
In 1973, wolves were protected as an endangered species in the lower 48 states. In the '90s, they were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and since then have reestablished in Idaho and Montana. Now wolves have begun returning naturally to Washington, filtering in across the borders from Idaho and southward from the wilds of British Columbia.
Washington's Lookout pack was the first to return in 2008. Volunteers with Conservation Northwest's Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project documented those photos by remote camera. Today in 2012, Washington has eight acknowledged wolf packs, two in the Cascades, and five in eastern Washington. Only the Teanaway Pack in the Cascades is known to be breeding; the Lookout Pack has yet to recover from a severe poaching incident in 2009.
Welcome home, Washington's wolves
Social attitudes toward wolves are also changing. More than 75% of Washington residents queried in a 2008 wildlife poll supported recovery of Washington's wolves. An outpouring of support for wolves in Washington bolstered support for the science-based, balanced plan. On December 3, 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the Washington wolf plan.
What we are doing for wolves
Conservation Northwest is the premiere group working on recovery of Washington's wolves. We served on a governor-appointed Wolf Working Group and organized citizens to speak up for a science-based recovery plan. In past years, we've also defeated anti-wolf state legislation harmful to wolves. We are:
- Hosting activist trainings, educational forums for ranchers and landowners, and presentations on learning to live with wolves.
- Helping stop poaching, by contributing to a reward fund to deter poachers.
- Actively monitoring wolf packs around the state.
Together we can recover wolves in the Northwest, protect and connect habitat, and secure a future for this important wild predator.
Interesting facts about 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.
- Wolves are returning on their own to Washington. There have been zero reintroductions in the state.
- Washington has a known population of about 50-60 wolves, distributed now in 8 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.
- As a top carnivore, the gray wolf, along with other predators such as the bear and cougar, 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 are on the return around the northwestern states, including a lone wolf (to date) in California.