Washington Wolves: understanding their controversial history and an update from State wolf expert

[Article by Melissa Grant, North Bend resident, animal lover/trainer and owner of Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs]

Historically, before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans in the Washington Cascades and Olympic Peninsula areas reportedly co-existed harmoniously with wolves. The Olympic Peninsula tribes especially are said to have revered the animals in their cultural and spiritual lives. Popular culture even brought us “Twilight” and the fictional Quileute Tribe who could shape shift into wolves. While these first people probably couldn’t become wolves, they certainly incorporated them into their natural and cultural heritage.

There is the legend of Q’wati, their creator and protector, transforming two wolves into the Quileute people. He said to them “For this reason you Quileute shall be brave, for you came from wolves”

Understanding the Human/Wolf Relationship  

Our relationship with wolves’ dates back many thousands of years. They were the first animals domesticated by humans. They helped us hunt, gave us fur and protected us. Over time (800,000 years), those ancient and now extinct animals evolved into the dingo – today’s Gray wolf and domestic dogs.

The Gray Wolf originally occupied all of North America except for parts of California and tropical and subtropical Mexico. In Europe, the extermination of wolves started in the Middle Ages and in some countries, all wolves were killed off by the 1800’s.

In the 1700’s European settlers started expanding across North America, bringing with them valuable livestock and a hatred of wolves. Wolves soon learned that sheep and goats were easy meals and settlers knew that without food, colonies would fail. With their livelihoods in danger, settlers shot, poisoned and trapped the animals – effectively eradicating them from the country by the early 20th century and spawning a wolf hatred that would be passed down through generations.

Wolves in Washington: Then and Now

In Washington state, the gray wolf was eradicated from its traditional ranges by the early 1930’s. They were never formally reintroduced to this state, but returned on their own. According to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, groups of wolves were re-introduced to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming in the mid 1990’s by the USDFW-  and the wolves now in Washington dispersed naturally from those states and Canada.

On April 16th state wolf expert Benjamin Maletzke presented a wolf management update to the Upper Snoqualmie Elk Management group.  Among the smallish audience you could tell there were wildlife lovers and one or two folks who still harbor that generational wolf hatred.

According to Maletzke the plan’s objectives are to

  • Restore self-sustaining wolf populations
  • Maintain healthy ungulate populations
  • Manage wolf-livestock conflicts
  • Develop public understanding and promote co-existence

According to the Wolf Conservation and Management 2017 Annual Wolf Report there are at least 122 wolves in our state, making up 22 packs with 16 breeding pairs.

A pack is described as two or more wolves traveling together in a defined territory. The state is divided up into three conservation zones, with most wolves living in the eastern zone. 106 live in the far Northeastern corner of the state. Three packs are in the North Cascades with the closest to the Snoqualmie Valley being the Teanaway pack near Cle Elum.

The state is currently monitoring 16 wolves from 11 packs. In 2017 they captured and collared 12 wolves from 12 different packs and at one point were monitoring 22 wolves from 15 different packs.

Maletzke says that the number of wolves they monitor is dynamic all year-long. The collars malfunction, batteries run out, wolves disperse from Washington and wolves get killed for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to: vehicle collisions, poaching, natural causes (kicked by a moose/elk, killed by other wolves, killed by other carnivores), legal hunting/trapping, and caught-in-the-act of livestock depredations.  Each year captures are done in the winter with a helicopter (Jan – March) and during summer (May – August), with trapping in an effort to deploy more collars.

One pack was lethally removed in 2017: the Profanity Peak/Sherman pack north of Kettle Falls. The pack was suspected of killing too many cattle in the area so the state authorized shooting the wolves from a helicopter. Most of the wolves were eventually killed and at least one dispersed to another area. They don’t know why the wolves started attacking the cattle, but some think the cattle pushed out the area’s native prey of deer. Notably, the same rancher’s cattle were the cause of another pack being lethally removed in 2016, the Wedge pack.

According to Maletzke, the state does have a variety of ways to deter the wolves from attacking wildlife before resorting to lethal removal, including contracted range riders, fox lights as well as sheepherders. The state spent nearly $1.3 million on wolf expenditures last year. There is an ongoing predator-prey project also examining the impact of wolf predation on cooccurring deer and elk population. There is an online reporting tool if you would like to report a wolf sighting – or you can call 1-877-933-9847. If the public has questions or concerns they can check out the website or email/call:

Ben Maletzke, Statewide Wolf Specialist Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, PO Box 238, South Cle Elum, WA  98943 | (509) 592-7324 | Benjamin.Maletzke@dfw.wa.gov

Could Wolves Put down Roots in Western Washington?

So, could Western Washington become home to wolves someday? Sure. Maletzke said given the lack of wolves here now, and the abundance of prey in elk and deer, we could see them here someday. We know there is one in Skagit County and we had one in the North Bend area in 2015 –  black female was seen on a few trail cameras and sadly was hit and killed on I-90.

So, will wolves become just another animal in the forest someday? Some think the wolves return is a great success story. Others feel the same way the settlers felt and are skeptical. All animals have a valuable role in the ecosystem and only time will tell how the story will end.

WASHINGTON STATE WOLF PACK MAP

Comments

  1. Dave Battey says:

    Fascinating. As a local historian I am amazed at how naive we have become. What some are really saying is that our/their ancestors were stupid to protect themselves their children their pets and their livestock from vicious predators and we should promote their reintroduction of these known killers.

  2. Melissa says:

    Not at all. I said they knew their settlements depended on livestock and at the time they did what they had to do. However, now we know that all creatures have a role in the ecosystem and there is value to their presence.

    • And the role wolves have in the ecosystem is to eat pets and livestock.

      • Melissa Grant says:

        Perhaps if we aren’t careful. However, we now have the knowledge and technology to mitigate that from happening. The benefits of having a balanced ecosystem far outweigh the cost of managing ourselves and our domesticated animals.

  3. Exactly Melissa. I’m actually surprised to see the population growth appears to be occurring more slowly than predicted. Assuming current surveys are accurate, growth has been slow. 2015 number was ~90, today’s number is only 32 higher. Obviously there’s been some losses. We’re not seeing the population explosion folks were fearing.

  4. Typical one sided wolf lover story. If Ben did his job he wouldn’t have a job. Truth hurts. Who pays for this ridiculous wolf research and problem wolves. Not wolf lovers. People that want wolves don’t live them. We as property owners have rights. Why does the rural,ranching and farming communities have to deal with them. Your rainbow fairy tail of coexisting with these mutts is a waste of time and money. Hunters and land owners,the real conservationists get shaft. It is not the same as it was 100 yrs ago. Way more land locked areas. All because citiots want to camp twice a yr and hear a wolf howl. So WA fish and game is going to reinvent the wheel. ID,MT,WY have played this game for over 20 yrs. they are such a problem the you can get 5 tags a yr. per person and they still hire professional hunt to trap them.

    • As a hunter, but also having a degree in Biology/Zoology, I don’t think it’s safe to rest heavily on the laurels that “Hunters” are conservationists. Yes, hunters can be a tool of game management , and contribute large amounts of money through excise taxes, and tag purchases to programs directed towards conservation, but I’d argue that the majority of hunters don’t stop and actually think much about the actual “conservation” efforts. They buy their gear, buy their tags and hunt. When they are successful they are happy and when they aren’t they blame the scapegoats, wolves, coyotes, game managers, etc. The true conservationists are the people and organizations, like it or not, like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wild Sheep Foundation, Backcounty Hunters and Anglers, Ducks and Pheasants Forever, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, but also the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, National Parks, Audubon Society, any many others that make it a priority to preserve and improve the habitat and the environment that these animals need to survive. While hunting, we have opportunities to get first hand data on the success or failures of these efforts and to make changes in our own lives and to lobby our politicians to take steps and pass legislation that preserves roadless land, ensures clean water in streams, prevents toxic oil spills, or nuclear waste leaching, or blockages to migration both for salmon and land mammals and birds. A lot of hunters call themselves conservationists, but act and vote in a way that’s harmful to conservation efforts. More developments, mining, roads and pipelines are built through vitally needed habitat, dams kill native salmon populations, pollution wipes out reproduction and water supplies for migratory and upland birds, global warming derails the food web. Simply buying a permit and a box of shells, and killing what you are told you can kill, does not make you a conservationist. If you want your great great grandchildren to be able to walk and hunt the fields and mountains that you did, and to see the herds and flocks, and coveys, and predators you love pursue, you have to make efforts prevent the pollution and destruction of those environments. The predators, including wolves and bears, are vital to keeping these ecosystems balanced and healthy. Most people don’t stop to and learn that we are all cogs in the system and when we don’t all do our part to keep things balanced the chain comes off and these animals will disappear forever.

  5. Michelle Jones says:

    I love how the people who are critical of wolves and other predators are not the biologists and experts who have studied the animals and their impact for years. Education is power! In the past, we used to believe all sorts of horrible ideas as ‘truth’. Bleeding people with leeches was a good method for treating illness and that disease was caused by ‘bad air’. We used to burn witches at the stake. Our country supported slavery and killed Native Americans on sight and felt they were best off in reservations. And scary animals that we didn’t understand? Kill them all! Education and research helped us realize how little we didn’t know or understand in the past, but if we refuse to accept new research as it arises, where does that leave us? Do we really want to reject what new studies are finding? There are ways to coexist with wildlife. Yes, living with wolves may involve having to set up electric fences and training guard dogs, but the opportunity for repairing our ecosystem and bringing balance back to the environment is huge. The ranchers and farmers who do take precautionary steps really do see their problems drastically minimized. The people who refused to do anything except shoot animals will continue to have problems. Please take the time to actually learn about wolves or other wildlife before ranting about killing them all. This video summarizes things well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=213&v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

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