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The Impact – Wolf Population is Growing & Spreading Out

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

Gray wolves are the largest wild canids in the world. They can run 37 mph, hunt as a group, and for the 15th consecutive year, their numbers have grown in Washington.

Although wolves had been eliminated in Washington by the early 20th century, today there are around 260 wolves, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

There are dozens of wolf packs in eastern Washington, but none west of the Cascades. That may not be the case for long.  More wolves have been crossing I-90 and heading southwest.  One of two wolves which did that a couple of years ago now lives in the South Cascades somewhere in the Skamania County area.

“We currently have wolves occupying pretty much all of their suitable habitat in eastern Washington. That’s not to say that packs won’t still expand there a little bit, but Northeast Washington, Southeast Washington, North Cascades, Central Cascades, those are all occupied by wolves. Where we expect to see growth is in Southwest Washington, where we have a lot of good forested habitat,” said Julia Smith, WDFW Endangered Species Recovery Section Manager.  “We also expect wolves to move up, hopefully, the west side of the Cascades, where we’ve had some wolf presence in the past, but don’t have it now. We expect them to occupy those areas and also eventually the Olympic Peninsula as well.”

Wolves are currently classified as state-endangered under Washington law or “seriously threatened with extinction.” However, in a WDFW status-review for gray wolves which is currently pending, a lower level of protection, based on population recovery goals the agency recommends downlisting wolves to State Sensitive defined as “vulnerable or declining and is likely to become endangered or threatened in a significant portion of its range within the state without cooperative management or removal of threats.” The Fish and Wildlife Commission that oversees the agency is expected to make a decision about the proposal this summer.

The federal government delisted wolves in eastern Washington, but they remain a federally endangered species in the western part of the state.

“It’s not unheard of with wolves to see them potentially crossing through an urban area. I would say it’s a lot less common than it is with coyotes,” said Smith.

This week the Endangered Species Recovery Section Manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife joins us to talk about wolf population and dispersal trends, different wolf scenarios, and the federal government’s plans to reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascades.