Washington’s wolf population continued to grow in 2018, with a minimum of 126 wolves, 27 packs and 15 breeding pairs documented by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
And in another sign that the apex predators are spreading, a pack was confirmed west of the Cascade crest for the first time, according to a WDFW news release.
The full population report will be released Friday and discussed at the WDFW Commission meeting in Olympia.
According to the news release, a single male, originally captured in Skagit County in 2016, traveled with a female wolf through the winter meeting the state’s criteria for the formation of a pack.
Biologists named the pack the Diobsud Pack.
In 2018, six wolves were killed legally by tribal hunters, four were killed by WDFW in response to livestock attacks and two apparent human-caused deaths remain under investigation, according to the release.
Wolves killed at least 11 cattle and one sheep, and injured an additional 19 cattle and two sheep, according to the release.
“Wolves routinely face threats to their survival — from humans, other animals, and nature itself,” said Ben Maletzke, WDFW statewide wolf specialist, in a news release. “But despite each year’s ups and downs, the population in Washington has grown steadily and probably will keep increasing by expanding their range in the north and south Cascades of Washington.”
In an emailed statement, Conservation Northwest called the discovery of a pack west of the Cascades a “milestone” and “indication of the continued recovery of wolves in our state.”
A number of wolf-related bills were brought forward during this year’s legislative session. A proposal that passed the house and is currently in the Senate would direct WDFW to develop different management plans for wolves in different regions of the state, with more support to control wolves in the part of the state where they are rapidly multiplying.
The bill would direct the state to spend nearly $1 million over the next two years on nonlethal ways to keep wolves from killing livestock in northeast Washington, where the majority of the state’s wolves live.
In March, U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposed removing gray wolves from the endangered species list. Gray wolves have been federally listed since 1975.
The numbers reported by WDFW are a minimum count. Researchers at the University of Washington, using scat-sniffing dogs, said the number of wolves in the state could be closer to 200.
The state wolf plan guidelines define a wolf pack as two or more animals traveling together in the winter.
Wolves are protected by state endangered species rules in the eastern third of the state, while they remain federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state.
According to the state’s wolf recovery plan, wolves can be delisted after 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years or after officials document 18 breeding pairs in one year.
Under either scenario, the pairs have to be distributed evenly throughout the state’s three wolf management areas.