Washington’s Wolves

Working for long-term wolf recovery and conservation

We believe Washington can be the state where wolf recovery, conservation and management work in the long-run—for people, wolves and all the Northwest’s native wildlife. We’re committed to the goal of long-term recovery and public acceptance of wolves alongside thriving, local communities. But to achieve these goals it will take hard work, respect and collaboration from stakeholders on all sides.

A gray wolf in north-central Washington. Photo: Craig Monnette, used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

Today, we’re on-the-ground from Colville and Twisp to the Teanaway and Olympia, supporting gray 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, we’re lobbying state and community leaders for wolf recovery and sustainable wolf management. And we’re protecting critical habitat and working with law enforcement to fight poaching and natural resource abuse.

Wolves (canis lupus) are native to our region and are returning here naturally. We’re here to help them succeed!


Learn more about our Range Rider Pilot Project. Or, read more about coexisting with wolves in Washington state

News on Washington’s Wolves

Washington’s wolf recovery today

Washington’s confirmed wolf packs at the end of 2017. Click here for larger version. Map: WDFW

In March 2018, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and tribal co-managers announced our state was home to at least 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs at the end of 2017, based on field surveys conducted over the winter by state, tribal and federal wildlife managers.

“We’re glad to see that Washington’s wolf population continues to grow, and are particularly excited to see a notable increase in the number of successful breeding pairs compared to past years,” said Mitch Friedman, Executive Director. “It’s important to note that social tolerance for wolves continues to grow as well, evidenced in part by growing uptake of deterrence measures by livestock operators and reduced acrimony in the state legislature.”

The state’s 2017 survey is a minimum count due to the difficulty of accounting for every animal, especially lone wolves without a pack. Survey findings reflect information from aerial surveys, remote cameras, wolf tracks, and signals from radio-collared wolves. Five new packs were documented—the Frosty Meadows, Grouse Flats, Leadpoint, Five Sisters and Togo packs—east of the Cascade Mountains.

With wolf populations growing at approximately 30 percent per year in recent years, wolf recovery is progressing well in our state, particularly in northeast Washington. 

However, eight years after wolves were first confirmed back in the North Cascades, there are only three wolf packs in that designated recovery area. There remain no confirmed wolf packs in the Cascades south of Interstate 90 or in Western Washington. In order to meet wolf-recovery goals agreed upon under the Washington Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Wolf Plan), and for the long term viability of the species in our state, it’s important that wolves recolonize the high-quality habitat in Washington’s South Cascades and the Olympic Peninsula.

“We are disappointed that more wolf packs have not yet become established in Washington’s North and South Cascades despite quality habitat available in those areas,” said Friedman. “The recent confirmation of at least one wolf in Western Washington is exciting news, and unconfirmed reports continue to come in from areas south of Interstate 90. It’s our hope that in 2018 we’ll see further expansion of wolves into the South Cascades and Western Washington, and the progress towards state recovery goals such confirmations would bring.”

“As wolves have continued to recolonize wild areas of our state, Washington has engaged in a decision-making process rooted not in acrimony and moving goalposts, but in dialogue, a search for common-ground, and thoughtful collaboration so that we can have both healthy wolf packs and local communities that accept them,” said Friedman.

“Tolerance for wolves in the rural areas where they reside is essential for long-term recovery. Forums including the state’s Wolf Advisory Group are leading to an increased understanding of wolf issues on all sides.”

More on Washington’s Wolves

A rider on the range. Photo: Laura Owens
A range rider in the area of the Teanaway Wolf Pack. Photo: Laura Owens

Protection status

Gray wolves are currently listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of Washington state (roughly west of Highway 97 and the north-south Columbia River), which includes the Lookout, Loup Loup and Teanaway Packs in the North Cascades. Though state endangered species protections remain statewide, wolves have been federally delisted in the eastern third of Washington state.

Management of the species 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.

A gray wolf in the Kettle Mountain Range in 2017. Photo: Conservation Northwest Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project

In areas of Washington where they are not listed as federally endangered, ranchers, farmers and other citizens are allowed to take lethal action against wolves “caught in the act” of attacking livestock, domestic animals, pets or property. 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 lethal-removal 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.

Compensation funds are available statewide for ranchers, farmers and livestock operators who have had confirmed losses to wolves and other predators. Support for non-lethal measures is also available to help prevent or reduce depredations. Measures like range riders, fladry and guard dogs can be very effective, however they are not 100-percent successful and some conflicts are an expected component of people, livestock and predators sharing space.

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.

A range rider at work in northeast Washington. Photo: Chase Gunnell, Conservation Northwest

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.

Pups from the Lookout Wolf Pack in the Methow Valley, first confirmed by Conservation Northwest in 2008. Photo: CNW

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 pupsthe 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.

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: