Defenders in the Northwest
Sage-Grouse, Photo: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region

Gray Wolf

For decades, Defenders has been the leader in promoting gray wolf recovery in suitable habitat throughout the species' natural range.  We were the primary driving force behind their successful reintroduction in 1995 and 1996 into Idaho and greater Yellowstone regions. Defenders continues to focus on generating lasting and comprehensive wolf recovery in the Northwest by advancing co-existence strategies and petitioning for non-lethal wolf management methods at both the community and legislative level.  Here are some of our shining moments: 

Idaho — Nearly thirty thousand sheep, one of the highest concentrations of domestic sheep on public lands in the western U.S., are grazed annually under the protection of local sheepherders supported by the Wood River Wolf Project, the nation’s largest wolf and sheep coexistence project. Pioneered by Defenders, Blaine County, Lava Lake Land & Livestock, and the U.S. Forest Service, the Wood River Wolf Project is a partnership of local wildlife advocates, ranching operations and county, state and federal agencies working together to use proactive, nonlethal deterrents to minimize livestock and wolf conflicts. The project has proven that wolves and livestock can successfully share the same landscape with minimal conflict and without the need for lethal government intervention. Over the seven years that the Wood River Wolf Project has been in existence, fewer than 30 sheep have been lost to wolves despite being located in an area with one of the highest concentrations of wolves and livestock sharing the same landscape in the Western United States.

Defenders is also mobilizing opposition within Idaho to the state’s wolf eradication program. We launched a public awareness campaign that included radio ads, print and digital ads, infographics, press statements, staff interviews with radio and talk shows, and an issue dedicated website. News stories now routinely use Defenders’ “war on wolves” tagline to characterize Idaho’s wolf management plans.

Oregon — Slow but steady growth in Oregon’s wolf population has triggered an Oregon Wildlife Commission review of whether state Endangered Species Act protections are still warranted for the species. Defenders and other wildlife conservation groups have expressed strong opposition to any proposal that would remove or weaken state protections for Oregon’s gray wolves, citing concerns the population is not fully recovered and still faces significant threats. At last count, Oregon had 77 wolves and eight breeding pairs confirmed by state biologists. Oregon has implemented a strong and balanced management plans for wolves.  Still, nearly all wolves live in the Northeast portion of the state, making this population highly vulnerable to disease, illegal poaching, and lethal control if conflicts with livestock are not well managed. 

There is currently intense pressure from wolf opponents to remove state-based protections even in western Oregon where only one pack has successfully bred pups. Defenders is encouraging the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to conduct a neutral and unbiased status review of wolves in order to ensure that upcoming decisions on potential changes to wolf management are based on the best available wolf conservation science, and not on politics. 

Washington — With only 68 confirmed wolves and five breeding pairs in the state, wolves in Washington are still in the early stages of recovery. In addition, three breeding females were killed in 2014 which can have cascading and detrimental impacts on the population as a whole. Plus anti-wolf groups continue their push in the media, spouting falsehoods about wolves in an attempt to undermine public support for restoring this iconic creature of the American west. Sustaining this fledgling population will require significant effort and collaboration by all parties going forward. 

Defenders is actively working to promote non-lethal conflict-avoidance measures to minimize wolf – livestock problems in areas of the state with expanding wolf packs.  As a member of the state’s Wolf Advisory Group, Defenders’ Northwest Program staff is also a key player in assessing proposed changes to the 2011 wolf management plan, leading the conservation community’s engagement with other stakeholders as well as elected officials.

More on Defenders in the Northwest: Other Key Species »

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