OLYMPIA, Wash.– Official Washington wolf population figures released today show a total of 206 wolves in 33 packs, with 19 successful breeding pairs. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife documented 30 wolves killed by humans in 2021, up from 16 last year.
The data shows that two wolves were killed by the wildlife department itself, 22 were legally hunted by tribal members and four were hit by vehicles. Two wolf deaths are still under investigation. Although Washington state law protects gray wolves as an endangered species, the wildlife department has killed 35 wolves in the past nine years, with most killings occurring on land public.
“It’s heartwarming to see our wolf population grow, but with people still killing so many wolves, we shouldn’t be celebrating,” said Sophia Ressler, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves are still recovering in Washington and need to be protected, not killed, by the state.”
Unlike previous reports, the wolf population data released today includes wolves counted by Confederate Tribes on the Colville Reservation. Population data for 2019 and 2020 did not include tribal numbers as no official counts of these wolves have been made. Therefore, wolf population growth in 2021 cannot be determined by comparison with the reported wolf population from the previous two years.
Following the state’s killing of the Wedge Pack in August 2020, Governor Jay Inslee ordered the agency to write new rules requiring the use of non-lethal solutions before killing wolves. In a victory for conservationists, the governor’s term overturned the state Fish and Wildlife Commission’s denial of a petition filed by the Center and conservation allies.
Inslee called for the rules to be enacted by the 2021 grazing season, but the department missed that deadline and now expects the rules to be in place by January 2023.
The continued recovery of wolves in Washington was initially driven by wolves moving into the state from Idaho and British Columbia. But wolves in Idaho and Montana — another source of dispersal for Washington — face an onslaught of newly enacted laws and regulations designed to dramatically expand wolf slaughter.
New laws in Idaho and Montana are expected to wipe out large portions of their wolf populations – up to 90% in Idaho and 85% in Montana. The laws extend hunting seasons, allow methods such as baiting and choke snares, and even allow hunters to crush wolves with snowmobiles.
Department staff told members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission that they should not rely on wolves that disperse into the state from outside its borders to ensure population recovery.
The department and commission are currently undergoing a rulemaking process that will develop the regulations requested by the governor. They will regulate when the agency is allowed to kill wolves for livestock conflict and establish non-lethal deterrence requirements before taxpayer dollars are used to kill wolves.
“Fortunately, Washington isn’t making the deadly mistakes we see in the Northern Rockies,” Ressler said. “With the rampant wolf slaughter occurring just east of us, the need for strong rules that help mitigate conflict is more vital than ever.”
Washington wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the ranching industry. However, with the protection of the Endangered Species Act, the animals began to return from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s.