After an absence of more than 70 years, Gray Wolves are returning to Washington State. This is an exciting time for conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts who value the role this keystone species plays in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), wolves were formerly common throughout much of the state, but as ranching and farming by European-American settlers expanded during the period between 1850 and 1900, the wolves were heavily trapped, poisoned and hunted. By the 1930’s, wolves had been eliminated as a breeding species in Washington.
Wolf sightings in Washington State have been on the increase since 2005. For the first time since the 1930’s a pack with pups was documented in the state in July of 2008. Since then, at least ten more packs have been documented, mostly in Northeastern Washington. The WDFW maintains a page on its website that lists known wolf packs in the state. They also encourage citizens to report wolf sightings to assist them in tracking the species’ recovery.
The return of the wolf to Washington has elicited a wide range of responses from celebration to trepidation. Wolves are iconic animals, revered as inspiring symbols of wilderness by some, while at the same time feared as menacing threats to humans, pets and livestock by others. In reality, they are simply a part of the native Northwest ecosystem, and only time will tell how they will fare in 21st century Washington after a 70 year absence. As is always the case with wildlife, the wolves’ success will largely depend on human actions and attitudes toward them.
Visit the links below to learn more about wolves and wolf-related issues.