News

The Pack Is Back

Wolves return to Skagit County

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

One appeared. Then two. Now it seems Western Washington may have its first resident wolves in decades.

State biologists confirmed last week they had documented a pack of the animals living in Skagit County, west of the Cascade crest. A male wolf, which had been captured in the county and given a radio collar in 2017, was joined this winter by a female wolf, according to wildlife officials.

Biologists named the pair the Diobsud Creek Pack. The two have been spending their time near Diobsud Creek, in an area south of Baker Lake and north of Highway 20 near Marblemount.

Their tenuous presence is an indicator of strengthening numbers of these apex predators around the state, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) noted in its annual report, which shows the state has a minimum of 126 individual wolves, 27 packs, and 15 successful breeding pairs—male and female adults who have raised at least two pups that survived through the end of the year.

The recovery of Washington’s wolf population continued in 2018 as numbers of individual wolves, packs and successful breeding pairs reached their highest levels since wolves were virtually eliminated from the state in the 1930s.

“Packs and breeding pairs are the building blocks of population growth,” said Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf policy lead. “It’s reassuring to see our wolf population occupying more areas of the landscape.”

“After years of reports of wolves in Western Washington, we are particularly excited by the confirmation of the first wolfpack west of the Cascade Crest in nearly a century,” Conservation Northwest Executive Director Mitch Friedman said in a written statement. The organization has supported the reintroduction and recovery of predator species as a means of restoring balance to the Pacific Northwest ecosystem.

“It’s our hope that we’ll see further expansion of wolves into the South Cascades and Western Washington, and the progress toward state recovery goals such confirmations would bring,” Friedman said.

Habitat is favorable to wolves in the Cascades, and wild game is available, Ben Maletzke, WDFW statewide wolf specialist, noted.

For the Skagit County wolves, “We know there’s deer and elk in that valley. We know there’s beavers and salmon in the streams. There’s a number of species they could be feeding on.”

Since 1980, gray wolves have been listed under state law as endangered throughout Washington. In the western two-thirds of the state, they are classified as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

As required for all state-listed species, WDFW conducts a periodic status review of the state’s gray wolf population to evaluate the species’ listing status, Martorello said.

“The state’s wolf management plan lays out a variety of recovery objectives, but the ultimate determination of a species’ listing status is whether it remains at risk of failing or declining,” Martorello said.

The 2018 annual count reflects the net one-year change in Washington’s wolf population after accounting for births, deaths and wolves that have traveled into or out of Washington to form new packs or join existing ones. 

WDFW also recorded 12 wolf deaths during 2018.

Maletzke said the 2018 annual report reinforces the profile of wolves as a highly resilient, adaptable species whose members are well-suited to Washington’s rugged, expansive landscape. He said their numbers in Washington have increased by an average of 28 percent per year since 2008.

“Wolves routinely face threats to their survival—from humans, other animals, and nature itself,” he said. “But despite each year’s ups and downs, the population in Washington has grown steadily and probably will keep increasing by expanding their range in the north and south Cascades of Washington.”

Alan Doyle
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