Washington’s wolf population grew by 16% in 2021

Washington’s wolf population grew 16% in 2021, the 13th straight year in which the state’s wolf population has increased, according to the State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

As of December 31, 2021, the state counted 206 wolves among 33 packs. In 2020, the state counted 178 wolves spread over 29 packs. Of the 33 packs counted last year, 19 contained a breeding pair — a male and a female, considered the pack leaders — which is higher than the 2020 count of 16 breeding pairs.

“Washington’s wolves continue to make progress toward recovery, with four new packs documented in four different counties of the state in 2021,” Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind said in a press release.

The agency said the total of 206 is a minimum number, meaning the actual number of wolves in Washington is likely higher. Since the department first began tracking the state’s wolf population in 2008, their numbers have increased by an average of 25% per year.

Gray wolves have been classified as an endangered species under state law since the 1980s, meaning that in most cases it is a crime to kill them. Wildlife advocates argue that wolves are crucial to controlling deer and moose populations – which is beneficial for plant life and thus other animal species – and say the carcasses of their prey provide food to scavengers.

But they also eat livestock, which is a problem for Washington farmers. A 2013 state law allowing property owners to kill wolves without a permit if their livestock is attacked has been a subject of controversy over the past decade.

In the press release from the State Department of Fish and Wildlife, the agency said 76% of known wolf packs in Washington have not contributed to any known loss of livestock by 2021. The Department said eight wolf packs did kill livestock, but said six of them were involved in less than two events. As a result, two wolves were killed last year.

“While interactions between wolves and livestock have remained consistent, we have recorded the lowest number of cattle raiding incidents in the state since 2017 and the fewest wolf removals since 2015 in response to conflict,” Julia Smith, head of wolf policy, said in the press release. “We are committed to promoting the proactive use of non-lethal deterrents to minimize conflict between wolves and livestock, and are proud to show that our approach works.”

The four new wolf packs documented last year were the Columbia pack in Columbia County, the Keller Ridge pack in Ferry County, the Dominion pack in Stevens County, and the Shady Pass pack in Chelan County.

In January 2021, wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list, so Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife took over statewide management of the species. But in February, wolves were relisted in the western two-thirds of the state, so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service once again has the lead role in restoring wolves in those areas.

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