For Immediate Release, April 23, 2021

Contact:

Sophia Ressler, (206) 399-4004, sressler@biologicaldiversity.org

Washington’s Wolf Population Increased 22% in 2020

New Wolf-killing Measures in Bordering States Threaten Washington’s Wolf Recovery

OLYMPIA, Wash.— Washington’s wolf population increased by 22% in 2020, according to figures released today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This is an increase of 24 wolves, three packs and three additional breeding pairs from 2019.

The state reported a minimum population of 132 wolves in 2020, up from 2019’s reported minimum population of 108. The number of Washington’s packs increased from 21 to 24, and breeding pairs increased from 11 to 13 at the end of 2020. The agency also reported that at least 16 wolves died in 2020.

“We’re happy to see this increase in our state’s wolf population, but Washington officials still need to stop killing these amazing animals,” said Sophia Ressler, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The necessary dispersal to reach full recovery will never occur if the state continues killing wolves in the same place year after year.”

In 2020 the state killed wolves once again in the Kettle Range, after another year in which the department failed to implement any new strategies to deter conflicts between cattle grazing on public lands and state-endangered wolves. As in previous years, the department’s Wolf Advisory Group tasked with solving this issue failed to reach consensus on potential solutions.

Washington’s ongoing recovery was initially driven by dispersal into the state by wolves coming from Idaho and British Columbia. But wolves in both these areas and Montana, another dispersal source for Washington, are facing an onslaught of newly enacted legislation and regulations designed to greatly expand the killing of wolves.

Montana’s legislature just passed multiple bills that increase how, when and where wolves can be killed, including allowing the use of snares and paying bounties. On April 26 Idaho’s legislature may approve a bill that is intended to kill up to 90% of the state’s wolf population.

The Montana and Idaho bills and regulations were discussed during today’s Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, where the report was presented. Department wildlife biologist Ben Maletzke told commissioners that Washington shouldn’t rely on wolves dispersing into the state from outside its borders.

"The Department of Fish and Wildlife deserves credit for killing fewer wolves this year,” said Ressler. “But neighboring states are pushing massive wolf-killing bills and no wolves have made it to Washington’s third recovery zone, so it's critical that our officials find and implement alternatives to killing wolves."

Similar to last year’s annual report, the department’s official 2020 count does not include numbers from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, who consider wolves recovered on their lands and no longer undertake an official count.

Background

Washington’s wolves were driven to extinction in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. With protection from the Endangered Species Act, however, the animals began to return from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s.

Although wolves are protected as an endangered species under state law, the state has killed 34 wolves over the past eight years, with most of the killings occurring on public lands.

Following the state’s killing of the Wedge pack in August 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee directed the agency to draft new rules mandating the use of nonlethal solutions prior to killing wolves. In a win for conservationists, the governor’s mandate reversed the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s denial of a petition filed by the Center and conservation allies. Inslee requested the rules be in place by the 2021 grazing season, but the department has acknowledged it will not meet that deadline.

Teanaway_wolf_1.jpg
A member of the Teanaway pack. Photo courtesy of WDFW. Image is available for media use.

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.