May 31, 2011

How Many Wolves are there in Washington State?

With the recent removal of the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list for part of Eastern Washington, it makes one wonder: exactly how many wolves are there in the state of Washington?

To confuse matters is the fact that the wolf remains protected as a state endangered species throughout Washington… and is still on the federal endangered list for all of the state west of Highway 97. East of this line, they are considered part of the healthy northern Rocky Mountain population.

So, how many are there?

Our state population of wolves is currently estimated at about two dozen, with a couple of successful breeding pairs documented.

Pups playing from Washington State's Lookout Pack.  Photo courtesy of Conservation Northwest.

Though it is impossible to determine exactly how many wolves lived in the Northwest before European-Americans began commercial fur-trapping and settling in the greater Pacific Northwest in the 1800s, records from the Hudson Bay Company for the years between 1821 and 1859 indicate that nearly 16,000 wolf pelts were collected during that period.

Under intense pressure, wolf populations took a nosedive that ended in a crash. By the 1930s, the Gray wolf was absent from all of Washington and Oregon.

It was only after British Columbia halted its aggressive wolf-eradication practices in the 1960s that wolves again began to reclaim their range. In the 1980s wolves travelled from Canada and naturally reestablished themselves in northwestern Montana. Then, in the 1990s, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves into Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. The wolves we see in Washington today came here from these states and from Canada to the north.

Learn more about the Burke Museum’s upcoming exhibit, Wolves and Wild Lands in the 21st Century, opening on June 4, 2011. Attend opening day events and hear about the return of wolves to Washington State, the historical relationship between wolves and the Quileute people, and even how wolves directly affect the lives of owls and woodpeckers!

The Burke Museum would like to thank David Moskowitz, author of Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, for his prepared information about Washington wolves.

The Burke Museum partners with the Seattle PI's Big Blog to answer commonly asked questions about the natural and cultural history of our region. This post originally appeared on the Big Blog on May 29.

Got a question for next time? Send it here!

Posted by: Peg Boettcher, Communications