SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Washington’s wolf population grew for the 13th straight year in 2021, posting a 16% increase from the previous year, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said Saturday.
As of December 31, 2021, the department said there were 206 wolves in 33 packs in Washington. Nineteen of these were successful breeding pairs. This is an increase from 178 wolves in 29 packs and 16 breeding pairs in 2020.
“Washington’s wolves continue to make strides on the road to recovery, with four new packs documented in four different counties across the state in 2021,” Fish and Wildlife director Kelly Susewind said in a release.
This is a minimum number, so the actual number of wolves in Washington is higher, the agency said. Since the department’s first wolf survey in 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown at an average rate of 25% per year.
Four new packs were formed in 2021, including 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. The Naneum pack was not found during the investigation and was removed from the count, the agency said.
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Wolves were wiped out in Washington in the early decades of the last century. But the animals began returning to the state from Canada and Idaho earlier this century. The animals’ return has sparked numerous conflicts with ranchers, particularly in northeast Washington state, where most wolves live.
Eight of the wolf packs were involved in known ranching raids last year, the agency said. Six of the eight were each involved in two or fewer events.
Two wolves from the Columbia Pack were killed in 2021 as a result of raids, one by the department and one by a landowner with permission to fatally remove a wolf, the agency said.
“Although interactions between wolves and livestock have remained constant, we have had the lowest number of predation incidents in the state since 2017 and have removed the fewest wolves in response to conflict since 2015,” said Julia Smith, director of wolf policy.
“We are committed to promoting the proactive use of non-lethal deterrents to minimize wolf-cattle conflict,” Smith said.
Gray wolves have been listed as critically endangered throughout Washington since 1980.
In January 2021, wolves were removed from protections under the federal Endangered Species Act, and the department resumed statewide management of the species. But this February, wolves in the western two-thirds of the state were listed nationally again, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service once again took the lead in their recovery in those areas.
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