[Article by Melissa Grant, North Bend resident, animal lover/trainer and owner of Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs]
Historically, before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans in the Washington Cascades and Olympic Peninsula areas reportedly co-existed harmoniously with wolves. The Olympic Peninsula tribes especially are said to have revered the animals in their cultural and spiritual lives. Popular culture even brought us “Twilight” and the fictional Quileute Tribe who could shape shift into wolves. While these first people probably couldn’t become wolves, they certainly incorporated them into their natural and cultural heritage.
There is the legend of Q’wati, their creator and protector, transforming two wolves into the Quileute people. He said to them “For this reason you Quileute shall be brave, for you came from wolves”
Our relationship with wolves’ dates back many thousands of years. They were the first animals domesticated by humans. They helped us hunt, gave us fur and protected us. Over time (800,000 years), those ancient and now extinct animals evolved into the dingo – today’s Gray wolf and domestic dogs.
The Gray Wolf originally occupied all of North America except for parts of California and tropical and subtropical Mexico. In Europe, the extermination of wolves started in the Middle Ages and in some countries, all wolves were killed off by the 1800’s.
In the 1700’s European settlers started expanding across North America, bringing with them valuable livestock and a hatred of wolves. Wolves soon learned that sheep and goats were easy meals and settlers knew that without food, colonies would fail. With their livelihoods in danger, settlers shot, poisoned and trapped the animals – effectively eradicating them from the country by the early 20th century and spawning a wolf hatred that would be passed down through generations.
Wolves in Washington: Then and Now
In Washington state, the gray wolf was eradicated from its traditional ranges by the early 1930’s. They were never formally reintroduced to this state, but returned on their own. According to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, groups of wolves were re-introduced to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming in the mid 1990’s by the USDFW- and the wolves now in Washington dispersed naturally from those states and Canada.
On April 16th state wolf expert Benjamin Maletzke presented a wolf management update to the Upper Snoqualmie Elk Management group. Among the smallish audience you could tell there were wildlife lovers and one or two folks who still harbor that generational wolf hatred.
According to Maletzke the plan’s objectives are to
- Restore self-sustaining wolf populations
- Maintain healthy ungulate populations
- Manage wolf-livestock conflicts
- Develop public understanding and promote co-existence
According to the Wolf Conservation and Management 2017 Annual Wolf Report there are at least 122 wolves in our state, making up 22 packs with 16 breeding pairs.
A pack is described as two or more wolves traveling together in a defined territory. The state is divided up into three conservation zones, with most wolves living in the eastern zone. 106 live in the far Northeastern corner of the state. Three packs are in the North Cascades with the closest to the Snoqualmie Valley being the Teanaway pack near Cle Elum.
The state is currently monitoring 16 wolves from 11 packs. In 2017 they captured and collared 12 wolves from 12 different packs and at one point were monitoring 22 wolves from 15 different packs.
Maletzke says that the number of wolves they monitor is dynamic all year-long. The collars malfunction, batteries run out, wolves disperse from Washington and wolves get killed for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to: vehicle collisions, poaching, natural causes (kicked by a moose/elk, killed by other wolves, killed by other carnivores), legal hunting/trapping, and caught-in-the-act of livestock depredations. Each year captures are done in the winter with a helicopter (Jan – March) and during summer (May – August), with trapping in an effort to deploy more collars.
One pack was lethally removed in 2017: the Profanity Peak/Sherman pack north of Kettle Falls. The pack was suspected of killing too many cattle in the area so the state authorized shooting the wolves from a helicopter. Most of the wolves were eventually killed and at least one dispersed to another area. They don’t know why the wolves started attacking the cattle, but some think the cattle pushed out the area’s native prey of deer. Notably, the same rancher’s cattle were the cause of another pack being lethally removed in 2016, the Wedge pack.
According to Maletzke, the state does have a variety of ways to deter the wolves from attacking wildlife before resorting to lethal removal, including contracted range riders, fox lights as well as sheepherders. The state spent nearly $1.3 million on wolf expenditures last year. There is an ongoing predator-prey project also examining the impact of wolf predation on cooccurring deer and elk population. There is an online reporting tool if you would like to report a wolf sighting – or you can call 1-877-933-9847. If the public has questions or concerns they can check out the website or email/call:
Ben Maletzke, Statewide Wolf Specialist Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, PO Box 238, South Cle Elum, WA 98943 | (509) 592-7324 | Benjamin.Maletzke@dfw.wa.gov
Could Wolves Put down Roots in Western Washington?
So, could Western Washington become home to wolves someday? Sure. Maletzke said given the lack of wolves here now, and the abundance of prey in elk and deer, we could see them here someday. We know there is one in Skagit County and we had one in the North Bend area in 2015 – black female was seen on a few trail cameras and sadly was hit and killed on I-90.
So, will wolves become just another animal in the forest someday? Some think the wolves return is a great success story. Others feel the same way the settlers felt and are skeptical. All animals have a valuable role in the ecosystem and only time will tell how the story will end.
WASHINGTON STATE WOLF PACK MAP