Gray wolf population surges in Washington – and there’s a surprise for ranchers

BY BROOKE WOLFORDAPRIL 26, 2021 02:44 PM, UPDATED APRIL 26, 2021 02:55 PM

Washington’s population of gray wolves is growing, according to the annual conservation status report.
Washington’s population of gray wolves is growing, according to the annual conservation status report. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

Washington’s gray wolf population grew substantially in 2020, but surprisingly, the number of livestock killed by wolves decreased, officials said.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife counted 132 gray wolves in 24 packs and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation reported 46 wolves in five packs over the course of 2020, according to the department’s report released Friday.

Those numbers are up from 2019, when the department counted 108 wolves in 21 packs and the CTCR reported a minimum count of 37 wolves in five packs, but “because these are minimum counts, the total number of wolves in Washington is likely higher.”TOP ARTICLES ADTri-City Dust Devils kick off 2021 season in new MLB league — and with new rules

The 2020 numbers also mark the 12th consecutive year the state’s gray wolf population has grown.

“Washington wolf recovery continues to make solid progress,” Kelly Susewind, WDFW’s director, said in a news release. “For the first time the North Cascades wolf recovery area has met the local recovery objective — four successful breeding pairs — during 2020.”

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A breeding pair is “defined as at least one adult male and one adult female wolf who raised at least two pups that survived until December 31 and is used to reflect reproductive success and recruitment.” Washington saw 13 successful breeding pairs in 2020, while 2019 had 10.

Wolves in the eastern third of Washington have not been classified under the Endangered Species Act since 2011, but state law does classify them as endangered. In the western two-thirds of the state, gray wolves were federally listed as endangered until Jan. 4, 2021.

Their status has been highly contentious among conservationists and ranchers, whose livestock can be threatened and sometimes killed by wolves in eastern Washington, KREM has reported.

However, while the number of wolves has risen, livestock fatalities have not followed suit.

In 2020, wolves were responsible for nine cattle deaths, 30 cattle injuries and one herding dog injury. In the year prior, gray wolves killed 14 cattle and injured 11, according to the 2019 report.

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Only seven of the 29 known packs in Washington in 2020 — or 24% — were involved in at least one confirmed livestock mortality or injury.

While the WDFW emphasizes using “nonlethal deterrence” in the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, there have been several instances of “lethal deterrence” over the years, according to National Geographic.

The department documented 16 wolf mortalities in 2020, three of which were “lethally removed in response to wolf-caused livestock deaths”

Wildlife officials will consider allowing lethal deterrence to control wolf populations if the following criteria are met:

  • It is documented that livestock have clearly been killed by wolves
  • Nonlethal methods have been tried but failed to resolve the conflict
  • Depredations are likely to continue
  • There is no evidence of intentional feeding or unnatural attraction of wolves by the livestock owner

“WDFW staff, and partnering producers, non-government organizations, and county officials worked hard last grazing season at reducing wolf-livestock conflict,” Donny Martorello, the WDFW wolf policy lead, said in the release. “This coming grazing season we will pilot some newly innovated non-lethal tools and are working with producers, range riders, and landowners on action plans for deploying them.”

The Washington Cattlemen’s Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News.Play VideoDuration 1:28See adorable gray wolf pups and hear them howlA female adult gray wolf, yearling and three pups walked through the woods in Lassen County. BY CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

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