The wolf migration was initiated in the mid-1990s when 132 wolves were reintroduced into those areas and Yellowstone National Park, where approximately 60 wolves had already been living. Since the reintroduction, wolf populations have recovered so successfully that hunting and trapping is now legal in some states.
Although wolves are native to Washington, settlers who feared for their livestock in the late 1800s and early 1900s exterminated them. The last wolves were eliminated in the 1930s.
Wolf populations began appearing in Eastern Washington in 2005 and have since continued to grow, according to the WDFW. In July 2008 the first breeding pack of wolves was documented to be living in western Okanogan and northern Chelan since their elimination in the 1930s. Wolves are endangered in the western two-thirds of Washington.
Wolves may feed on smaller animals, including domestic livestock such as cattle and sheep, according to the WDFW. If it is confirmed that livestock has been preyed upon by wolves, the owner can receive compensation for their loss from the WDFW. On April 26th of this year, it became legal in the state of Washington to shoot a wolf without a permit if it is caught preying upon livestock. The livestock owner must then notify the WDFW within 24 hours of the attack and offer proof that the wolf was harming livestock.
In Eastern Washington, where a growing number is migrating, the Steven’s County Cattlemen Association has fervently asserted that the growth of the wolf population in the area has led to more attacks on livestock.
In an incident on July 22 at the Graeber Ranch in Steven’s County, one calf was attacked, which rancher Roy Graeber attributed to wolves in the area. According to the Cattlemen Association, Graeber has remained “unimpressed” with the WDFW response to the incident, and similar incidents in the area.
Graeber told the Association: “The Department is saying there is not enough wolf activity in the area to start live trapping or any other measures. In the meantime, I am out chasing after my cows all day trying to get them back where they are supposed to be.”
Madonna Luers, the Public Information Officer at the WDFW in charge of wolf conservation claims that the Department does adequately respond to reported livestock attacks. “We’re on the scene as soon as a suspected depravation is reported to us by anyone involved . . . We’re doing our job; we’re on top of it. The last two reported, we were right there on the scene to investigate. . . One of them was confirmed a wolf depravation, and one wasn’t enough evidence left to confirm. It could have been a number of things.”
Luers explained that a complex investigation occurs in order to determine if an attack was by a wolf, which includes a full necropsy. The reporting party works with local officials and the WDFW officials to determine the type of attacker. “It’s not just one guy – it’s a number of people taking a look,” Leurs said.
Most wolves in Washington die at the hands of humans when they try to protect their livestock from wolves or hunt them illegally. Therefore, wolves fear people and tend to seek out areas where human contact is rare, leading to an increased survival rate, the WDFW explains. There have been two human fatalities caused by wolves in North American, Canada, and Alaska in the last 60 years but no human attacks by the wolves that were reintroduced into Idaho, Montano, and Wyoming in the 1990s.
In Idaho, where wolves were reintroduced in the 1990s, a healthy wolf population has returned and hunting them is legal. According to Mike Keckler, the Communications Chief at Idaho Fish and Game, “Hunters are putting pressure on wolves. As a result, conflicts are beginning to decrease . . . Overall, The wolves are getting wise. They understand that it’s not safe to be around people or livestock.”
“Now that we have management of wolves, we feel like we are well on our way of managing them in balance. There will be plenty of room on the Idaho landscape for elk and wolves,” Keckler explained.
Keckler explained that before wolves were reintroduced, Idaho elk populations were around 135,000, which was much above the state’s objective. Today, the population is between 100,000 – 105,000, which Idaho Fish and Game feels is a healthy number.
According to Keckler, elk populations have migrated over the last 20 years as a result of wolves and development. Elk are less common in certain areas of the deep wilderness where they used to reside, such near the Idaho/Montano border, and they have moved to new areas, such as deep Southwest Idaho. Keckler said: “There are areas . . . where people have hunted for generations, in the deep wilderness areas, and there aren’t as many elk there as there used to be. And that’s highly frustrating for many people.”
Some Idahoan hunters have complained that an increase in wolves has led to less hunting opportunities. Keckler responded: “It’s a legitimate concern- we understand that. There are areas where there are fewer elk. We’ve attempted to address that by having more liberal seasons on wolves. . . We’re attempting to bring the wolf populations into balance with elk populations.” Idaho Fish and Game offers courses on hunting and trapping wolves and has implemented more liberal tag and take capabilities for wolves.
In December 2011, the WDFW unveiled its Wolf Conservation and Management Program, which strives to allow successful recovery of a healthy wolf population in both Eastern and Western Washington while protecting livestock and observing the impacts on elk, deer, moose, and other wildlife populations. The plan outlines that wolves can be taken off the endangered species list in Washington when there are 15 breeding pairs present across the state for three years. The WDFW also provides procedures to protect livestock and allows compensation to owners if livestock is damaged.
The reintroduction of wolves into the northwest can drastically improve the ecosystem. As the existence of wolves naturally balances out the population of other animals in a top-down approach, plant species fair better as well. The WDFW points out that the ecosystem in the Olympic National Park has substantially deteriorated since the elimination of wolves, but scientists predict that a healthy wolf population would bring it back to normal, similarly to how the ecosystem in Yellowstone drastically recovered when wolves were reintroduced.
To report a wolf sighting or wolf tracks, please use the Online Wolf Reporting Form on the website or call 1-877-933-9847. To report a wolf attack on livestock, call the WDFW Reporting Hotline at 1-877-933-9847.