SPOKANE -- The number of gray wolves in Washington nearly doubled in the past year, according to a new survey released Friday by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The survey found at least 51 wolves in nine packs in the state, including five successful breeding pairs. The 2011 study documented just 27 wolves, five wolf packs and three breeding pairs.
Wolf program director Nate Pamplin said the actual number of wolves is likely much higher, because lone wolves often go uncounted and those that roam the state but do not den here are not included in the survey. Biologists already suspect there are two additional wolf packs in the state.
Using estimates of the average pack size in other western states, Pamplin said there could easily be as many as 100 wolves statewide.
"The survey shows that our state's wolf population is growing quickly," Pamplin said. "That growth appears to be the result of both natural reproduction and the continuing in-migration of wolves from Canada and neighboring states."
The recovery of wolves in Washington is controversial. While many environmental groups hail the development, rancher advocates blame wolves for killing livestock. Several bills intended to improve wolf management are pending in the Legislature.
A wolf pack is two or more wolves traveling together. A successful breeding pair is an adult male and female with at least two pups that survive until the end of the calendar year.
State Sen. John Smith, R-Colville, said the growing number of wolves shows that recovery is exceeding expectations.
"We must put a plan in place now for wolf population management as recovery targets are reached," Smith said, adding that the state must "act now to provide for public safety and economic safeguards."