Washington Wolf Population Likely to be more than the Estimates, as per Researchers
According to University of Washington researcher, the number of wolves in Washington is likely to be more than estimated. The researchers have spent two years studying the animals using scat-sniffing dogs.
Samuel Wasser said his dogs were able to detect 95 wolves in one area of Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, in the rural northeast corner of the state, during the 2016-17 seasons. And the numbers approached the total number of wolves wildlife officials estimated for the entire state.
A year ago the state Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated Washington had a minimum of 122 wolves, grouped in at least 22 packs, and 14 successful breeding pairs.
Wasser told a state Senate committee recently that it is possible that the numbers of wolves in Washington may reach 200.
State wolf managers also told the panel that Washington’s wolf population has grown on average 30 percent per year.
“We see a wave of recovery,” said Donny Martorello, head of wolf policy for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This is indicative of adequate protections, available habitat, and suitable prey base.”
He also added in the statement to the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee that Washington also had fewer conflicts between wolves and cattle than many other states.
But the critical question is how many wolves roam the state is important because it determines whether wolves are considered a protected species under state and federal law.
Throughout Washington, wolves are a state endangered species. In Washington, they were all but wiped out early in the last century but started returning from neighboring Idaho and Canada after the turn of the new century. They are also federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state, where killing wolves are banned.
As per Washington’s wolf-recovery plan, wolves can be delisted. But there is a criterion for that. The delisting can be possible after 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years, or after officials document 18 breeding pairs in one year.
And as per the recent trend, the state will document 18 breeding pairs in one year before they document 15 successful pairs throughout three years, Martorello said.
The wildlife department’s director, Kelly Susewind, told the committee that in any event, those who wish for the removal of all wolves would not get their wish.
“Wolves are doing quite well. They’re here. They’re here to stay,” Susewind said.
The return of the wolves was problematic initially as they sometimes prey on livestock in ranching area. And to the woes of some conservation groups, that has prompted the state to track and kill several wolf packs in recent years.
Some urban residents, on the one hand, support the return of wolves, and on the other hand, livestock producers on the front lines and in the lightly populated north-eastern part of the state are worried about wolves.
A state lawmaker from that rural area, where Wasser conducted his survey of the wolves, last week introduced a bill in the Legislature to create a first of its kind wolf sanctuary on Bainbridge Island. Republican Rep. Joel Kretz’s bill was in response to the legislator from Bainbridge Island introducing a bill to stop the killing of wolves.
“I’m sure the gray wolves will seek to placidly coexist with the dogs, cats, horses, sheep, people and other peaceful animals of the island,” said Kretz, of Wauconda, Okanogan County.
As per his bill, the state should be allowed to kill wolves only after “four dogs, four cats or two children have been killed.”
Wasser along with his team used dogs to sniff out scat of different animals. Through analyzing the excrement, biologists can determine whether an animal is malnourished, pregnant or stressed.
Wasser’s team is also watching how wolves and smaller predators, such as coyotes and bobcats, interact. As per preliminary findings indications, wolves are avoiding coyotes.
And as per a preliminary analysis of the scat composition, wolves have been eating mostly deer, followed by moose and elk. Coyotes and bobcats have been eating snowshoe hares.
As per Wasser, Washington has been an excellent place to study wolves because the animals haven’t spread to all areas of the state. Examining the areas where wolves are rarely found, such as south of Interstate 90, and how the economy is affected will shed light on the interaction between wolves and other predators.
The environmental group Conservation Northwest welcomed Wasser’s findings on wolf numbers and appreciated his effort.
“Wolf recovery is progressing well in Washington,” the group said. “Despite a few high-profile events, the rate of wolf mortality is much lower here than in the Rocky Mountain States.”
The group now hopes to see wolves confirmed in Washington’s South Cascades, and new areas of the North Cascades as well.