WENATCHEE — Wolves in Washington state do not appear to be in danger of going extinct.
That was the message state Fish and Wildlife Regional Manager Jim Brown gave the Chelan County Commission on Tuesday. The wolf population in the state continues to grow and is nearing recovery goals, said Brown, the Ephrata-based regional director for Chelan County.
“We have shown by prudent management that even in the face of depredation incidents that wolves are not in jeopardy of extinction in Washington,” Brown said. “We’re not saying we’re fully recovered. That’s a management call and I don’t have the authority to make that statement here.”
Brown and other regional managers are speaking to county commissions around the state about an upcoming periodic status review for wolves as an endangered species, he said.
The agency will also be updating the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, the agency’s governing body, about the status of wolves. The commission could then decide to enter into the process for delisting wolves.
Earlier this month it was revealed that the agency’s director, Kelly Susewind, wrote a letter in support of federal delisting of wolves as an endangered species, according to reporting from The Spokesman-Review.
In addition, the agency plans to start an environmental analysis in the fall to look into moving wolves from areas where they are abundant, to areas where they’re lacking, Brown said. This fall, the agency will also start developing a management plan for once wolves are delisted, including looking into allowing the hunting of wolves, he said.
To delist wolves the state needs four breeding pairs of wolves in three recovery zones in the state, he said. The recovery zones include Eastern Washington, the North Cascades, and the South Cascades plus the Olympic Peninsula.
Three additional breeding pairs would also be needed anywhere in the state for three years or six breeding pairs for one year, Brown said.
Washington has reached those goals in Eastern Washington and the North Cascades is close with three breeding pairs, but no breeding pairs or packs have been reported in the South Cascades, he said. Overall, though, the state has a sufficient number of wolves to reach recovery goals.
According to the agency’s 2018 report, Washington has a minimum of 126 wolves, 27 packs and 15 breeding pairs. The state could have more wolves than are currently being monitored.
“We really do have by sheer numbers what appears to be the numbers to hit recovery,” Brown said. “We don’t have the distribution. And that is going to be part of the discussion for the commission.”
Brown said he isn’t sure what could be causing the wolves to stay in eastern and northern Washington, but it might have to do with prey populations. The wolf packs currently exist in areas occupied by elk and moose.
“There is something to be said that the availability of large prey may be a limiting factor or at least a restrictive factor,” he said.