Working for long-term wolf recovery and conservation
July 2020 update: Getting to fewer conflicts between wolves and livestock in Washington
Conservation Northwest believes Washington can be the state where wolf recovery, conservation, and management work in the long run; for people, wolves and all the Northwest’s wildlife. We’re committed to the goal of long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves alongside thriving local communities.
Our key objective to achieve this goal is to get maximum effort to deterring conflicts with wolves. We pursue this by working in the policy arena—through collaboration with other stakeholders on the state’s Wolf Advisory Group and in the state legislature to secure continued funding for proactive deterrence work—and by working directly with ranchers through our Range Rider Pilot Project and other efforts.
The result of maximum conflict deterrence is minimum conflict, not no conflict, unfortunately. We know we’re unlikely to prevent wolf-livestock conflict entirely, but we can make it less common.
On-the-ground and at-the-table
Today, we’re on-the-ground from Colville and Twisp to the Teanaway and Olympia supporting wolf recovery in Washington state.
We directly fund, train and implement non-lethal, wolf-livestock conflict avoidance methods. We’re working with ranchers and hunters to help reduce conflict and increase social tolerance for wolves. With conservation partners and through the Wolf Advisory Group, we’re lobbying state and community leaders for wolf recovery and sustainable wolf management policies. And we’re protecting critical habitat and working with law enforcement to fight poaching.
Gray wolves (canis lupus) are native to Washington and are returning here naturally. We’re here to help them succeed!
Read more in this perspective from our Executive Director: Wolves, Collaboration, and Coexistence. Or learn about our Range Rider Pilot Project.
Read more about coexisting with wolves in Washington state, or our blogs on Understanding wolf-livestock science, Understanding wolf behavior and Tips for hiking in wolf country.
You can also download our new one-pager with talking points on wolves.
News on Washington’s Wolves
- July 2020: Getting to fewer conflicts between wolves and livestock in Washington
- July 2020: Three wolf packs implicated in livestock conflicts in northeast Washington
- June 2020: Range Rider Pilot Project enters 10th year, range riding season underway
- April 2020: Mixed results in Washington’s 2019 wolf counts; minimum of 145 wolves, 26 packs
- April 2020: New paper on predator-friendly beef and coexistence with wolves
- November 2019: Comments on Post-Recovery Wolf Plan
- October 2019: Statement on letter from Governor Inslee regarding Washington’s wolves
- August 2019: Stories from the field
- August 2019: Range riders hard at work for coexistence with wolves
- August 2019: Perspectives on Washington’s wolves
- July 2019: Comments on federal wolf delisting proposal
- April 2019: Understanding the science on wolf-livestock conflict
- April 2019: Study: Wolves push mule deer higher, don’t impact whitetail
- April 2019: Wolf recovery continues in Washington, state now home to at least 27 packs including in North Cascades
- July 2018: Understanding wolf behavior—for your safety and theirs
- April 2018: South Cascades wolf survey, conflict deterrence, relocation study funded by legislature
- March 2018: Of Wolves and People: The Science Behind Conservation Conflict Transformation
- Sept. 2017: Wolves, Collaboration, and Coexistence
- March 2017: Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Management Grant moves forward
- 2016 end of season update: Range Rider Project continues with focus on gaining and sharing knowledge
Washington’s wolf recovery today
As of the end of 2018, Washington was home to a minimum of 126 wolves, 27 packs and 15 successful breeding pairs.
It’s important to keep in mind that these annual wolf reports from the state represent a minimum number. Individual wolves are incredibly hard to document as they expand to new areas, and our state’s total wolf population is certainly higher than this baseline count.
Given recent research by the University of Washington, we can be confident that in actuality well over 150 wolves roam Washington today.
“After years of reports of wolves in Western Washington, we are particularly excited by the confirmation of the first wolf pack west of the Cascade Crest in nearly a century, the Diobsud Pack near North Cascades National Park,” said Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest Executive Director. “This is a milestone worth celebrating, and a clear indication of the continued recovery of wolves in our state.”
Wolf recovery is progressing well in our state, particularly in northeast Washington. But as welcome as this good news is, Conservation Northwest remains concerned about the absence of confirmed wolf packs in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast Recovery Zone. There have been reports of wolves and documented tracks in the Cascade Mountains south of I-90 for several years, but packs have yet to be confirmed in this area of high-quality habitat.
Read more about the 2018 wolf survey and results! Or check out the latest pack map and a graphic showing recovery progress below.
Conflict, lethal removal lower than other states
The state’s annual wolf report summary also indicates that only four wolves, less than three percent of the state’s total population, were killed last year by wildlife managers after chronic conflicts with livestock. At 11 years into Washington’s wolf recovery, this represents a much lower level of mortality from state lethal removal than what was seen in other Western states at similar points in wolf recovery.
In comparison, when the Northern Rocky Mountain States of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming were 11 years into wolf recovery, lethal control for livestock depredations amounted to 142 wolves or 12 percent of their total minimum wolf count.
“While the loss of wolves to persistent conflicts with livestock is always unfortunate, Washingtonians should be proud that our state’s investments in collaboration and non-lethal conflict prevention are paying off, with wolf recovery continuing and very few wolves being killed as a result of conflicts,” said Friedman.
“Our goal has always been to make Washington the state where wolf recovery works; for wolves, other native wildlife and local communities,” Friedman said. “We believe the continued recovery of wolves, the very low rate of lethal removal, and increased use of non-lethal conflict avoidance methods to protect livestock and small businesses is all showing Washington is well on its way to that goal.”
More on Washington’s Wolves
- Washington’s Wolves on Facebook
- Understanding the science on wolf-livestock conflict
- Understanding wolf behavior
- Tips for hiking in wolf country
- Seattle Times Op-Ed – Killing wolves is tragic, but their return has been a success
- Seattle Times Op-Ed – Stiffer penalties needed for poaching wolves
- Coexisting with wolves – a cowboy’s perspective
- Washington’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan
- 2014 Science panel on wolves and wolf management. Also on YouTube!
Management of gray wolves in Washington is governed by the state’s Wolf Plan until the species hits recovery objectives for breeding packs distributed across the state’s three designated recovery areas. Conservation Northwest was instrumental in the creation of the Wolf Plan, and we strongly believe it’s the best wolf recovery plan in the nation.
There are ongoing discussions at the federal level regarding Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves, including in Washington state. You can read our technical comments on delisting here, including concerns about the lack of recovery in states such as California and Colorado, and precedent for other endangered species including Canada lynx.
However, given the quality of Washington’s Wolf Plan and investments in collaborative wolf conservation work here, we do not expect federal delisting to have a significant impact on wolves in our state. Wolf recovery is progressing well in Washington and our wolves will remain a state endangered species until state recovery goals are met.
Policies and protocols
In areas of Washington where they are not listed as federally Endangered, state law and Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission policy allows ranchers, farmers and other citizens to take lethal action against wolves “caught-in-the-act” of attacking livestock, domestic animals, pets or property. While the loss of any wolves is unfortunate, we support these policies as reasonable in these very rare circumstances.
Through the state’s Protocol for Lethal Removal of Gray Wolves During Recovery, in some cases of wolf-livestock conflict, wolves may be killed as a last resort to prevent ongoing depredations once non-lethal measures have failed. This evolving protocol reflects a wide range of values and extensive participation from livestock producers, environmental groups, animal-rights organizations and hunting advocates through Washington’s Wolf Advisory Group (WAG), of which Conservation Northwest is a member.
As an organization, we recognize that as wolf populations grow in Washington, under this protocol and the state’s Wolf Plan animals that habitually prey on livestock may need to be removed. This fact of responsible wolf recovery can be heartrending, but it won’t stop wolves from flourishing in our region in the long-run.
It’s important to keep in mind that in Idaho, Montana, Canada and other areas where wolves have always been present or have been recovered for years, these experiences are an expected component of a balancing act between people, livestock and predators sharing the same space. When conflict avoidance measures are used diligently, and wolf removals are used only as a last resort and are not excessive, it’s possible for wolf populations to flourish alongside rural communities and healthy populations of other wildlife.
Washington’s wolf history
Early settlers described gray wolves as common to Washington and it’s believed that one or more wolf packs may have made their homes in every major river valley in the Pacific Northwest, down to the shores of Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean.
Able to travel extreme distances, adapt to varied habitat conditions and occupy large ranges, wolves once thrived throughout Washington’s Cascades, Kettle River Range, Selkirk and Blue Mountains, as well as the ancient forests, swamps and coastlines of the Puget Sound Basin, Olympic Peninsula and Willapa Hills, and even the deserts, sagebrush steppes and coulees of the Columbia Basin and Palouse regions.
By the early 1900s, after years of trapping, poisoning campaigns and government-sponsored bounties, wolves were eradicated from the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The last confirmed Washington wolves were killed in the rainforest valleys of the western Olympia Peninsula in the 1930s. Wolf sightings were still occasionally reported from far northeast Washington’s Selkirk Mountains, near the Canadian border around Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park and in the area of the Pasayten Wilderness.
To the east, small populations of gray wolves persisted through the 20th century in northwest Montana’s Upper Flathead Valley and in the northern Great Lakes region.
Welcome home, Washington’s wolves
In the 1990s and early 2000s wolves started coming back naturally to Washington from “coastal” gray wolf populations in British Columbia and “continental” gray wolf populations in Idaho and western Montana. Howling, scat and wolf tracks were first documented near the Canadian border at the northern end of Ross Lake in the late 1990s, and later confirmed as the transboundary Hozomeen Pack, which dens in British Columbia.
The early 2000s saw scattered reports of wolves in the Pasayten Wilderness and other areas north of the Methow Valley, and Washington’s first pack in over 70 years, the Lookout Pack, was later confirmed in the mountains west of Twisp. In 2008, cameras operated by a Conservation Northwest Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Program volunteer captured the first images of the Lookout Pack pups—the first Washington wolf pups documented in nearly a century. In 2009, the Diamond wolf pack was also confirmed in the upper Pend Oreille valley near the Idaho border.
After 2010, Washington’s recolonizing wolves went on to occupy territory throughout northeast Washington, including the Columbia Highlands, Kettle Range and Selkirk Mountains. Wolves from northeast Oregon and western Idaho also began to regain territory on the Washington side of the Blue and Wallowa Mountains in our state’s southeast corner, as well parts of as the nearby canyon country around the Snake, Tucannon and Grande Ronde Rivers.
In the Cascades, descendants of the Lookout Pack and other “coastal” wolves coming down from British Columbia expanded south, establishing the Teanaway Pack in the valleys north of Cle Elum and the elusive Wenatchee Pack in the Colockum steppes south of Wenatchee and north of Ellensburg. Though another pack has not yet been confirmed in the area between the Okanogan and Methow valleys, wolves have been documented in the Pasayten Wilderness and in the Loup Loup Pass area.
In early 2015, a black-colored wolf was hit by a car and killed on Interstate 90 in North Bend. The Hozomeen Pack wolves had previously been confirmed west of the Cascade Crest, however the death of this “I-90 wolf” was a historic (and tragic) event as it was the first wolf confirmed back in central Western Washington. Around the same time, a Conservation Northwest Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project camera documented a gray wolf in the Chiwaukum Mountains between Stevens Pass and Leavenworth, likely an individual moving through the area. Also in 2015, unconfirmed photos and reports of wolves came from the Taneum, Naches, Bumping Lake and Wenas areas.
In June of 2017, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and WDFW successfully captured and confirmed the first wolf in Western Washington in the upper Skagit Valley! Learn more in this news coverage.
What we are doing for wolves
Conservation Northwest works to safeguard the recovery and science-based conservation of Washington’s wolves. We also seek to help ranchers, farmers and hunters adjust to the return of wolves in our region, promoting social tolerance for this important native species. These efforts are vital for coexistence.
Our Range Rider Pilot Project helps ranchers in Washington’s wolf country fund, train and implement range riders to supervise livestock and reduce or prevent conflicts with wolves. We also:
- Advise WDFW on implementing the state’s Wolf Plan by continuing to serve on the state’s Wolf Advisory Group, Livestock Review Board and Wildlife Diversity Advisory Council.
- Lobby for long-term wolf recovery at the state Capitol in Olympia.
- Install fladry around cow-calving pastures and use other non-lethal tools to prevent livestock depredations.
- Stop poaching by working with hunters, hosting “Eyes in the Woods” trainings and offering rewards to help convict poachers.
- Host educational forums for ranchers, landowners, farmers and wildlife managers, helping them adapt to wolf recovery.
- Helped shape the state’s 2011 Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Wolf Plan), serving on a Governor-appointed Wolf Working Group and organizing citizens to speak up for science-based recovery.
- Actively monitor wolf packs around the state and collaborate with the people who live, work and recreate in Northwest wolf country.
- Work to document new wolf packs and follow-up on reports of wolf sightings in new areas through our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project.