Gray Wolf Status & Management

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Wolf photo USFWS Gary Kramer
Photo by Gary Kramer USFWS

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) is the most widely distributed of all land mammals and one of the most adaptable.  The wolf’s ability to survive in a variety of habitats, including forests, tundra, mountains, swamps and deserts, mimics our own ability to adapt, leading to our long complex history.

Tens of thousands of years ago, humans began the domestication of the gray wolf.  As we migrated around the globe, a variety of dog types developed, each type exhibiting certain traits of the wolf while suppressing other wolf behaviors.  While domesticated dogs provided early humans with guard animals, sources of food and fur and beasts of burden, wolves themselves provided a more complicated relationship.

Many Native American tribes consider wolves to be spiritually important, even including them in their creation stories.  These tribes respect wolves for their close-knit pack relationships, intelligence and hunting skills.

Wolves were generally revered by the tribes who survived by hunting but were feared by those who survived through agriculture.  Some tribes such as the Numamiut of northern Alaska respected the wolf’s skill as a hunter and attempted to emulate the wolf’s ways in order to successfully hunt down prey.  The Tanaina of Alaska believed that wolves were once men and viewed them as brothers.

However, wolves were not always portrayed positively in Native American cultures. The Naskapis believed that a caribou’s afterlife was guarded by giant wolves, which killed careless hunters venturing too near.  Wolves were feared by the Tsilhqot’in, who believed that contact with wolves would result in nervous illness or death. Early settlers in America, also learned to fear the wolf from folklore and myth and carried it with them to the Pacific Northwest.  The gray wolf, once widespread throughout Washington State, was eliminated by the 1930’s by trapping, poisoning and shooting.

Wolf recovery and Management in Washington State

After more than seventy-year absence, the gray wolf is returning to Washington.  Reports of wolves have been steadily increasing in north-eastern and north-central Washington and in the Blue Mountains in the south east.  In 2008 and 2009, breeding packs of wolves were confirmed in two locations in Washington:  the “Lookout Pack” in Okanogan County, and the “Diamond Pack” in Pend Oreille County.

In 1973, gray wolf populations in the 48 U.S. states were listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, which made it illegal to kill, harm, or harass the species  In Washington state, wolves were listed as endangered under state law in 1980.

Wolf Policy Update

Congress passed legislation on April 14th to delist Rocky Mountain gray wolves in Idaho and Montana, and in Washington. While all Idaho and Montana wolves will be managed by their state agencies, Washington wolves will be split into two management zones: wolves in the eastern third of Washington no longer have federal protection; wolves in the western portion of the state, namely the Lookout Pack, are not affected by the new law and will remain a federal listed species.

The Salmo and Diamond Packs, will continue to be listed as state endangered. Washington State law “protects endangered species from hunting, possession, malicious harassment, and killing, with penalties described ….” It also specifies state listing and delisting procedures for endangered, threatened, and sensitive species in Washington.

Photo USFWS William Cambell
Photo by William Cambell USFWS

In 2007, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife began developing a conservation and management plan to address wolf conservation in Washington, in cooperation with a governor appointed Wolf Working Group.  The Washington Wolf Working Group includes stakeholders from livestock, timber, sportsmen, local government, recreation, and conservation interests.  The plan will be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for consideration (see new timeline). Since January of 2010, the WDFW has received over 60,000 comments and can be reviewed at WDFW’s website.

Transplanting wolves is not part of the recovery plan as wolves are likely to come in on their own from Canada and neighboring states like Idaho.

To assist in wolf conservation and management efforts in Washington State, please report all suspected wolf and wolf track sightings to the Wolf Reporting Hotline at 888-584-9038.

Photo courtesy of USFWS, a Kenai Alaska wolf

To report a suspected livestock conflict, notify the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for eastern Washington or for western Washington contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 360-753-9440. Both sides of the state can also call the USDA Wildlife Services at 360-753-9884 or your local State Patrol office.

Photo courtesy of USFWS, a Kenai Alaska wolf