Washington Wolf Population Up 30 Percent
In what can be taken as either good or bad news, Washington state's wolf population is up 30 percent and formed four new packs last year, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The new survey shows that gray wolf numbers jumped from only 52 wolves in 2013 to 68 wolves in 2014, thanks to recovery efforts by conservationists.
"While we can't count every wolf in the state, the formation of four new packs is clear evidence that wolves are recovering in Washington," Donny Martorello, a carnivore specialist with the WDFW, said in a news release. "Since 2011, the number of confirmed wolf packs has more than tripled in our state."
Gray wolves were nearly wiped out from western states in the last century due to hunting. There are now an estimated 7,000-11,200 gray wolves in Alaska, 3,700 in the Great Lakes region and 1,675 in the Northern Rockies, according to Defenders of Wildlife.
The IUCN Red List currently lists the gray wolf (Canis lupus) as "least concern," but there has been some debate recently as to whether the species should be added to the federal Endangered Species List. One argument for not granting gray wolves stricter protections is their threat to livestock.
As wolf numbers grow, so do their conflicts with humans, particularly farmers that struggle to protect their sheep and cows which are targeted prey. The struggle between man and wolf continues to drive the debate over these predators. In Washington, for instance, the Huckleberry wolf pack accounted for 33 of the 35 sheep killed or injured in 2014, a new record for the state.
"I've been involved in wolf management for more than a decade, and the issues are much the same from state to state," said Jim Unsworth, WDFW's new director. "Conflicts with livestock are bound to rise as the state's wolf population increases, and we have to do everything we can to manage that situation. So far, wolf predation on livestock has been well below levels experienced in most other states with wolves."
The four new packs - Goodman Meadows, Profanity Peak, Tucannon, and Whitestone - were discovered east of the Cascades, where all of the state's other wolf packs are located. While wolves are currently protected throughout Washington under state law, once the population reaches 15 successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years then they can be removed from its endangered species list.
At this rate, conservationists are hopeful that this feat can soon be achieved. And to make everyone happy, conservationists will continue to work with livestock owners to both preserve wolf populations and domestic animals.
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