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Wolf population up in Washington, but there's disagreement about how many is enough

Photo by Doug Smith, National Park Service

The state says wolves are filling in as expected in Washington, but conservation groups think there should be more.

Washington wildlife officials say the state's wolf population continues to increase. They say they are seeing the animals move into new recovery zones, something they have planned for some time.

The latest report by the Department of Fish and Wildlife indicates the wolf population in Washington has increased by at least 5%, to 216 wolves in 37 packs, 26 have successful breeding pairs.

In addition, the animals are starting to migrate from their current habitat in northeast Washington into recovery zones in the north and south Cascades.

Depredation of livestock continues, but Fish and Wildlife biologist Trent Roussin says the number of wolves actually involved in such acts is a minority, with less than 20 packs involved in livestock depredations, and only three involved in more than one depredation.

“To put that in context, only 8% in Washington were chronically depredating packs, which means the other 92% of packs were generally behaving themselves pretty well," he said.

One group that believes the population is not increasing is fast enough is the Center for Biological Diversity. An attorney for the group, Sophia Ressler, says a population increase of about 30% annually would ensure wolves would begin to move to the other recovery zones more quickly.

Her group has been critical of Fish and Wildlife's inaction in moving to adopt rules that would mandate use of more non-lethal methods, such as using range riders, requirements for carcass removal, and keeping distance between cattle and wolf denning sites to control problem wolves that kill cattle.

“People just kind of use non-lethals as a box to check, but they haven't necessarily been the appropriate ones for the given situation. So we're just trying to get more clarity as to what non-lethals should be used in what situations, and what those should look like to make sure they are effective," she said.

Roussin, the Fish and Wildlife biologist, says his agency does not have the legal authority to set certain requirements for how livestock producers manage their animals. He says many of the producers are using some of the non-lethal control techniques on their own.