Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 18, 2023


Sophia Ressler, (206) 399-4004,

Washington Wildlife Agency Recommends Reducing Gray Wolf Protections

OLYMPIA, Wash.— The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife today recommended that state protections for Washington’s wolves be reduced from endangered to sensitive.

“It’s infuriating that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is trying to remove life-saving protections from wolves when there are barely 200 in the state,” said Sophia Ressler, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves deserve a real chance at recovery. This misguided recommendation flies in the face of science, the law and the state’s own wolf recovery plan.”

Under state law, the commission must base any delisting or downlisting decision solely on the biological status of the species. Wolves in Washington have not yet met recovery goals required by the state's wolf plan. The plan requires specific recovery thresholds in three distinct areas of the state, but wolves are only recovered in two of those zones.

Washington’s wolves continue to face threats to their survival, including illegal wolf killing, which is on the rise.

In the past decade, the state has confirmed an average of one to four illegal wolf killings each year. In 2022 nine wolves were illegally killed and at least six of those died in a single episode of intentional poisoning.

“If Washington’s wolves lose their protections as a state endangered species, the agency will kill even more wolves and squander their modest progress toward recovery,” said Ressler. “We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that Washington’s wolves receive the protections they deserve under state law and the wolf plan.”

The announcement of the proposed downlisting kicks off a 90-day public comment period. The commission will then vote whether to accept or deny the department’s proposal to reclassify wolves and provide significantly less state protections.


Wolves were once widely distributed throughout Washington but were eradicated from the state in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored effort and a bounty system on behalf of livestock operators.

In 2009 the first wolf pack in decades was confirmed in Pend Oreille County. Other wolves began to come into Washington and establish packs. Most are located in eastern Washington, with a few in the central portion of the state in the North Cascades.

Washington’s state wolf plan was adopted in 2011 after a four-year public process and an external scientific peer review. It divides the state into three recovery zones, with required population objectives for each that must be met before wolves can be reclassified from their current status as endangered.

Recent department estimates for 2022 place the population at about 216 wolves, an increase of just 5% from the previous year.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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