Four new wolf packs were created in the state last year, according to an annual survey done by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Gray wolves also expanded their territory, state wildlife managers told the state Fish and Wildlife Commission at its meeting March 8 in Moses Lake.
That assessment confirmed the presence of 13 wolf packs, five successful breeding pairs and at least 52 individual wolves in 2013, according to a department news release.
Donny Martorello, WDFW carnivore specialist, said the latest findings point to continued growth in the state’s wolf population under state and federal recovery plans.
“While we can’t count every wolf in the state, the formation of four new packs is clear evidence of steady growth in Washington’s wolf population,” Martorello said in a statement. “More packs mean more breeding females, which produce more pups.”
Wolves are protected under Washington law throughout the state and under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state.
The commission approved in 2011 a plan that guides state management and recovery of wolves in Washington.
In developing its annual update, agency staffers used a combination of aerial surveys, trackers and signals from 11 wolves fitted with active radio-collars.
Three of the new packs — Ruby Creek, Dirty Shirt and Carpenter Ridge — were formed by wolves that split off from the Smackout Pack in northeast Washington, Martorello said.
A fourth new pack, the Wenatchee Pack, appears to be made up of two female wolves from the Teanaway Pack, whose territory stretches between Ellensburg and Wenatchee.
Under the state’s wolf conservation and management plan, a pack is defined in the state plan as two or more wolves traveling together.
Despite growing numbers, wolves were involved in far fewer conflicts with humans and livestock in 2013 than in the previous year, Martorello said.
Stephanie Simek, wolf conflict-resolution manager, said the department investigated 20 reported attacks on pets and livestock last year, but found that wolves were actually involved in only four of them. Confirmed wolf attacks left one calf dead and three dogs injured, she said in the release.
In 2012, wolves killed at least seven calves and one sheep, leaving six additional calves and two sheep injured, Simek said. Most of those attacks were made by the Wedge Pack on a single rancher’s cattle in northeast Washington, Simek said.
The department eventually killed seven members of the Wedge Pack to stop the attacks, although two wolves were still traveling as a pack in the same area in 2013, she said.
Under the state’s wolf-management plan, wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list once 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among three designated wolf-recovery regions — or 18 successful breeding pairs in one year among three designated wolf-recovery regions.
A successful breeding pair is defined as an adult male and female with at least two pups that survive until the end of the calendar year.
In 2013, the department documented three successful breeding pairs in the Eastern Washington recovery region and two pairs in the North Cascades recovery region. No wolf packs or breeding pairs have been documented on the South Cascades/Northwest Coast recovery region.
Meanwhile, the federal listing of gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act is currently under review. In June 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to delist gray wolves nationwide. A decision is expected by the end this year.