Grey Wolves

Wolves are extremely intelligent animals with a complex and fascinating social structure. There have been only two documented incidents in North America of wild wolves involved in human fatalities. Wolf livestock kills are not nearly as common as thought. Wolves generally prey on ungulates, with elk being the preferred prey and deer a close second. Wolves usually prey on old or injured animals, thus helping to maintain the vigor of prey species.

History of Grey Wolves in the North Cascades

Photo by Gary Kramer, USFWS

Before Europeans arrived, wolves roamed nearly all of North America from Alaska to Mexico and the Pacific to the Atlantic. Trapping for furs decimated wolf populations in the North Cascades and much of the rest of North America. Extermination programs (i.e., trapping, poisoning, and shooting) further suppressed wolf populations in the North Cascades.

By 1930, wolves were thought to be extirpated from the Washington North Cascades and were rarely seen in the British Columbia North Cascades.

Wolves are listed as Endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. They are also listed as endangered by the State of Washington. These listings preclude the hunting, trapping, shooting, harassing, or capturing of gray wolves in the Washington North Cascades. Wolves are classified as big game animals in British Columbia, although hunting is very limited in the North Cascades.

Primary threats to the long-term survival of wolves in the North Cascades include habitat loss (i.e., residential development of lowlands needed by wolf prey species), over hunting of wolf prey species (i.e., elk and deer), and human induced wolf mortality (i.e., poaching, predator control, and hunting in British Columbia).

The wolf population in the North Cascades is very low. However, there have been occasional sightings since the early 1990s. Three packs with pups have been observed in the Washington North Cascades, indicating that reproduction has taken place. Wolf pups were photographed in 1991 near Hozemeen along Ross Lake. Adult wolf sightings have also been reported from the Pasayten Wilderness and the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Recent reports document wolf presence in the Methow and Twisp River valleys.

The biology and behavior of gray wolves is conducive to population recovery in the North Cascades. Wolves reproduce at a young age and often have large litters. Areas with adequate prey abundance can be colonized rapidly.

A wolf recovery program in Rocky Mountains has resulted in a few wolves moving into eastern Washington. It is likely just a matter of time until packs from northeast Washington colonize the North Cascades and create the potential for wolf population expansion throughout the state.

WDFW is responding to wolf colonization through development of a Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. The plan will identify locations and population goals for gray wolf recovery in Washington. It will also establish criteria for responding to wolf predation on livestock (i.e., agency predator control).

Wolf Advocacy Today

Map by Washington Fish and Wildlife Department

Now is the time for conservation advocates to speak up for wolf recovery in the North Cascades. WDFW and the Washington State legislators need to know that North Cascades’ residents support wolf recovery. Wolf population goals in Wolf Conservation and Management Plan should reflect the public’s strong support for wolf population recovery throughout the state.

Conservation advocates must also remain vigilant in protecting lowland habitats for wolf prey species. Urban growth boundaries must be maintained and efforts should be made to restore the natural function of lowland areas that have been dominated by agriculture in the recent past.

Elk and deer are big game animals in Washington State. Hunting quotas for these species need to reflect a balanced approach that leaves adequate prey for wolves. Wolf recovery advocates must be present to speak up for the needs of wolves when these hunting quotas are being set.

Photo from Montana DFW website

Limiting human induced mortality of wolves should be a top priority for conservation groups. Predator control by wildlife agencies is driven by complaints from a vocal minority opposed to wolves. Conservation advocates must counter this pressure with frequent calls for wolf protection. Enforcement of legal protections for wolves is essential. Conservation advocates should encourage the USFWS and WDFW to follow-up aggressively on every illegal wolf kill.

NCCC sends Action Alerts by email to its members to enable them to speak out about grizzly bear and wolf conservation. Members advocated for policy changes, including writing letters to elected officials promoting grizzly bear EIS funding and comments to WDFW on the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Join NCCC and provide your email address and you’ll begin receiving our Action Alerts!

Major Current Issues and Activities

  • Advocate for US federal and other funding for conducting an Environmental Impact Statement that will determine the best strategies for grizzly bear recovery in the Washington State North Cascades.
  • Encourage the British Columbia Ministry for the Environment to fully implement their grizzly bear augmentation program in the British Columbia North Cascades.
  • Advocate for ecologically sound wolf population goals and management policies in the Washington Wolf Conservation and Management Plan being developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

What You Can Do To Help

  • Join NCCC and provide us your email address – we’ll send you email Action Alerts.
  • Ask your friends, neighbors, and colleagues to join the NCCC.