Tribal hunting is the most significant source of mortality for Washington wolves. Photo George Wuerthner 

It may surprise most conservationists and wolf advocates, but the single largest source of wolf mortality in Washington State is trapping and hunting on tribal reservations.

One wolf advocate I contacted who puts out a weekly wolf newsletter had no idea this was happening, even though he is probably one of the most informed people on wolf issues.

This wolf mortality is ongoing even though wolves in Washington State are protected as Endangered under state law across the entire state and by Federal law in the western 2/3 of the state. Because wolves are listed as a state and federal endangered species, it is illegal to kill, harm, or harass them—except, of course, if you are a Native American.

Despite this presumed protection, a minimum of 52 and perhaps as many as 57 wolves have been killed by Washington tribal members during the past ten years. By contrast, during the same time period, 36 were killed by agencies to thwart livestock depredations. So far, in the past ten months, only two wolves have been killed by government agents for livestock depredation while 22 were lethally taken by tribal members.

Wolves were extirpated from Washington by the 1930s, but recolonization of the state by migration of wolves from Idaho led to the establishment of the first breeding pack in 2008.

Typical wolf habitat in Northeast Washington’s Kettle Range. Photo George Wuerthner

Currently, there are an estimated 206 wolves in 33 packs across Washington, with most packs concentrated in the NE corner of the state. Of the reported mortality in 2021, more than 10% resulted from tribal hunting/trapping.

The Colville Tribe has even implemented an official wolf hunting season to reduce the wolf population by 25%, primarily to favor elk survival. The Colville Tribe allows hunting year round, which means if a pregnant or lactating female is killed, you could lose the pups.

The Spokane Tribe also has a wolf hunting season.

Yet, the only mention of this wolf slaughter was in the Capitol Press, a pro-Ag newspaper.

Why this wasn’t covered by any other news outlets in the state or significant notification and condemnation by wolf advocacy groups is troubling.

The only group that actively tried to get media coverage was Predator Defense which contacted Washington newspapers to cover the story, but with no success.

Elk are a major prey item for Yellowstone wolves. Photo George Wuerthner


Killing a significant proportion of the state’s wolves has ecological implications for wolf behavior and survival. For example, hunting wolves outside Yellowstone National Park (where they are protected) has had severe consequences for wolf survival in recent years. Hunters had killed a minimum of 25 Yellowstone wolves in 2021.

Hunting north of Yellowstone in 2021 resulted in the death of numerous park wolves. Photo George Wuerthner 

According to Doug Smith, Yellowstone’s wolf biologist, “Data show pack size can affect wolf health and hunting success, Smith notes. Packs with more than eight individuals “are more resilient” to diseases such as mange, which is caused by mites, and can “have greater prey kill rates and are better at territorial defense.”

Unhunted packs persist longer than hunted animals. For example, some of the packs in Yellowstone have been around for 10-15 years. That kind of stability and “knowledge” of the landscape reduces the tendency of a pack to attack livestock.

Hunters and trappers are the main cause of mortality for wolves that wander outside of the protective borders of Yellowstone National Park. Photo George Wuerthner 

About 80% of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming wolf deaths outside of Yellowstone can be attributed to people, but just 2% to 3% of wolves within the park’s boundaries are due to humans–primarily from vehicles.

Recent studies in Yellowstone have concluded that any more than 5% mortality from hunters disrupts packs’ social cohesion and ability to hunt effectively.

Thus, the loss of a minimum of 10% of Washington wolves by tribal hunting may affect overall wolf survival, reduce restoration efforts, and lead to livestock depredations which, of course, result in pack annihilation.

Map showing location of Colville Reservation. The reservation lies east of the area where federal Endangered Species Act protection still applies to wolves. 

Few organizations are willing to go on record condemning the tribal wolf hunts. However, Predator Defense Executive Director Brooks Fahy says his organization opposes the killing of wolves by any group and says the mortality from tribal hunting is a significant setback for the wolf recovery in the state. Tim Coleman, ED with the Kettle Range Conservation Group, also agrees with Fahy’s opposition to tribal wolf hunting.

Most experts believe that poaching and other unreported killings are often as high as any reported mortality. For instance, a study of wolf kills concluded that poaching was significant unreported mortality. Even protected populations suffer from poaching. It is thought that 20% of the wolves in and around Grand Teton National Park are killed yearly by poachers.


Research in Washington by carnivore biologist Robert Wielgus concluded that losing critical pack members like dominant male or female animals could increase the chances that a pack will attack livestock.

For these and other studies by Wielgus that questioned the effectiveness of predator control, he was forced out of his academic position at Washington State University.

Thus, whether the killing of wolves on a reservation is legal due to treaties does not matter to the wolves and efforts to recover wolves in the state. The killing of wolves by anyone has major ecological impacts, especially when the wolf population is still in the early stages of recovery.

In Colorado, where wolves are starting to make a come-back and voters have supported wolf restoration, the Southern Ute tribe has also gone on record opposing wolf restoration. Similarly, the San Carlos Apache have in the past supported removal of all Endangered Mexican wolves from their reservation.

It’s important to note that some tribes and tribal organizations, including Nimipuu Protecting Our Environment, Global Indigenous Council, and Protect the Wolves, have advocated for continued wolf protection under the Endangered Species Act and support efforts to grow wolf packs. Tribal groups in the mid-West have supported efforts to halt wolf hunting there. However, as far as I am aware, none of these groups have condemned the actions of the Colville and Spokane tribes.

Like all humans, tribal people vary in their commitment to conservation goals. Some put greater emphasis on conservation, while others favor policies that promote their economic or political  interests.

About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

35 Responses to Tribal Hunting May Harm Wolf Recovery

  1. Isabel action hen says:

    The killing of wolves in this day and age is totally inexcusable! There are very few of them left now. Please help us get the message out: killing wolves is cowardly and wrong! They are one of the few magnificent creatures left in the wild so please help us save them!

  2. Chris Zinda says:

    Why was the piece deleted only to return?

    All the comments are now missing.

    • Chris Zinda says:

      Any criticism of environmental organizations not willing to go on record has been scrubbed.

      Terrible, unprofessional, censorship.

      So, what? Pretty soon GW will be deplatformed?

      • Ralph Maughan says:


        I had nothing to do with this. George removed his original article and posted the new one. I learned about the whole thing when I was contacted by a news person in Washington State.

        When an article is removed on this WordPress site, all of the comments to it automatically disappear as well.

    • Robert Goldman says:

      What is the explanation for the deletion of reader comments? Why was this piece deleted and re-posted?

      • Ralph Maughan says:

        Robert, I don’t know why George did this. I had nothing to do with it. I liked his swipe at the environmental groups, but perhaps it wasn’t quite accurate.

  3. Maximilian S Werner says:

    I commend GW for covering this issue. The fact that this version has been revised (though that may not be the best word for it) is powerful example of the problem: a handful of activists have, in their collective myopia and ideological determination, decided that certain topics are verboten. Not only are they forbidden, but even asking questions about these topics is tantamount to aiding and abetting the commission of racism. Anyone who claims to value science and truth seeking should challenge this stifling of inquiry and, in the case of wolf hunting specifically, the censoring of data. We own a debt of gratitude to George and Mr. Fahy for their willingness to challenge the well-intentioned but ultimately blinkered perspective of those who would seek to undermine discussion of this issue.

    • Chris Zinda says:

      GW got the smug Molvar treatment.

      Here he is responding to a piece I wrote in 2019:

      “Trying to shank environmentalists whom you don’t agree with doesn’t serve the environmental (or progressive) cause, it just undermines the protectors and serves the interests of corporate exploiters our western public lands who would love to pursue their profits without all those annoying laws and regulations and watchdog groups.”

      • Maximilian S Werner says:

        I would have been interested to see the comments on the original post. But the environmental community would be well advised to challenge the uncritical trend that GW alludes to in his piece. The sooner the better: Once it takes hold and gathers momentum–which it has in higher education–it is very difficult to challenge or stop. I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to attack people, but it is appropriate to challenge their ideas. As long as there is an objective, knowable, empirically verifiable world, we have a responsibility to engage it on its own terms, and without the constraints of our moment in history.

        • Ida Lupine says:

          I don’t think the comments were bad that I recall. I may not have seen all of them. Just respectful challenge to this line of thinking.

        • Chris Zinda says:

          If you are referring to those of Molvar, nobody – including Counterpunch- would publish this piece, so I did put it on Medium. He was the only to respond.

          A Review of Christopher Ketcham’s This Land

          In it, I say,

          “I believe Ketcham’s text renders various ‘tagonists with distorted jaggies, obscuring capitalism’s complete influence over not just his antagonists but also his protagonists of public lands. Central themes and characters are purposely omitted entirely while others are promoted to Sainthood without disclosing the abuse allegations, an unacceptable outcome given the prose is largely one of histories from which we hope to learn, especially from our mistakes.”

      • Ida Lupine says:

        This is absolutely true, so much so that I have to wonder who is actually behind it. 🙁

      • Robert Goldman says:

        Tying the environmental cause, with what Mr. Molvar refers to as the “progressive” cause is foolish and irresponsible because it’s counter-productive to being as effective as possible. I’m progressive on some issues but not on others, because on some issues supposed “progressives” and the “far left” are naive, ignorant and full of crap and not progressive at all.
        So a big challenge is to drop the “progressive/far left” cost of admission for being a devoted earth defender or risk being complicit in more horrible and silent massacres of America’s wolves and more unconscionable failures in other vital parts of the earth defender mission.

        • Ralph Maughan says:

          Robert, I too have been on the left for a long time, but I don’t like the direction of progressives on many cultural issues.

          I don’t think what is being called “social justice” is part of environmentalism. If I were to give my time and money to these issues I would not go to an organization built and directed to something else — protecting the wild Earth — and use it as a vehicle for social justice.

          • Robert Goldman says:

            Yup. And some of the progressive/social justice stuff is not progressive at all, but the opposite. How on earth does that promote the earth defender mission? It’s an effective way to sabotage it, from within. $15 per hour is someone else’s mission as is whatever the heck you think of the Middle East or art or music or whatever. The ignorance, willful or otherwise, hypocrisy and ideological foolishness of lots of supposed lefties, is just plain destructive to protecting wildlife and wild lands. To mix in the defense of wild nature, with so much of the “progressive/social justice” stuff is criminal, if your mission is to actually protect and restore wild nature. It’s creating a distracting hall of mirrors, and as we’ve just learned, is creating a situation enabling the killing of wolves, the living symbol of our efforts for many of us.
            What else is being hidden? What other wild beings and wild places are being killed or contaminated at the altar of “social justice?” Add that to the greed and corruption within many environmental groups, who focus so much on fundraising and image.
            Change better come soon, from within. A birth or re-birth of real and true activism for wild nature. More fundraising is not the answer. What’s needed are more groups and leaders that come together with strength and conviction, that stick to the mission. People and groups with consistent, true leaders such as Predator Defense and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Sea Shepherd and other groups and people that we learn and read of periodically, around the country that are actually getting things done in their communities. Did you hear of the older women on Cape Cod, some in their 60s, 70s and 80s, who go out in kayaks, diving to the bottom of the many ponds there, removing tons of trash?
            No compromise, no excuses and no distraction when it comes to protecting Mother Earth. Putting that first and sticking to it. For The Creator’s sake, cut the crap and do it.

            • Ida Lupine says:

              I had no idea about the women on the Cape, fantastic!

              But I’ve been left/progressive since I first was able to vote – it’s Massachusetts, it’s who we are.

              But as I say, I am really disappointed with what’s been going on lately. I expect that environmental issues will always be bumped to the bottom of the pile when there’s other issues considered ‘more important’, and it is a human issue also.

            • Marc Bedner says:

              Much of what passes for progressive/social justice/woke is an attempt to appeal to whatever is fashionable in the corporate donor community. The Sierra Club is one example. When they denounce John Muir as “racist” they are in tune with corporate liberal funders. When they took social justice wokeness too far and tried to cancel a trip to occupied Palestine, they got pushback from their funders, and reinstated the trip. It’s an odd sort of “leftism” that answers to the corporate world.

          • Ida Lupine says:

            Same for me, always left. But I’m not comfortable with what’s going on lately either.

            • Mark L says:

              So what does a solution look like from a leadership prospective (nationally)? A social conservative with preservation minded conservation ethics? If there was an ‘ideal candidate’ what values would they have, and what would they avoid? We know ‘the left’ isn’t going to provide much help here, as it’s me-first pseudo-humanitarianism which looks good and doesn’t help wildlife a bit. Worse still is the old school far right, with extraction obsession and attempts at ridding us of that nasty EPA and the ESA…..kinda inconvenient to industry. Well, whose left? Anybody have a candidate in mind? Or even à présent politician that comes close to footing the bill? I’d say what we really have is a duality (republican and democrat) that’s unsatisfactory. There’s no way to a better solution unless you break that construct, and it’s designed to not be broken in the US.

              • Ida Lupine says:

                It is scary when you think about it! Whatever happened to the Green Party?

              • Robert Goldman says:

                If somehow the earth defender community could make itself come together and act as a united force. With an agreement of goals and principles that everyone would agree to, that could not and would not be compromised away. Goals and principles, firmly based in healthy ecosystems and healthy soils and clean water and the biodiversity of native wildlife and flora and waters that are restored and protected, permanently. Alongside ethical and respectful human behavior centered on co-existence with all native wildlife and their habitats.
                A Wild Nature Declaration that all earth defender groups agreed to and signed on to and committed to. Period.

              • Robert Goldman says:

                Mark, you are quite right about that. Look at the lefties in Vermont who are fine with placing industrial wind turbines atop the Green Mountains, in the middle of moose and deer and bird habitat. These huge industrial monstrosities, do not generate the electricity that is promised, especially when they are poorly sited as in the Green Mountains, where they do not belong anyway. The left is focused on people people people. Listening to Bernie speak for an hour or so in the 2020 primary campaign, he would give a mention to tackling climate change and spend the rest of the time on income inequality, raising the minimum wage, family leave, corporate greed, and on and on. Good and important issues, but. Nothing about protecting our wild lands and endangered species. Yes, he signs on to protecting wolves, but does not lead on that, or anything regarding wild nature, besides always mentioning climate change. A bird landed on a podium from where he was speaking. It was a perfect opportunity to talk in a heartfelt way about the many harms humans are imposing on the planet, in addition to the big one of screwing with the climate. He did not see or feel such sn opportunity. Such a waste of s beautiful moment. The left is almost, though not completely, useless, on restoring and protecting wild nature.

  4. Ida Lupine says:

    Yes, we certainly do owe George and Predator Defense a debt of gratitude. I had no idea it was this bad. I can’t and won’t support it, ever.

    If news outlets won’t cover it, then the information should get out there somehow. This is very damaging.

  5. BR Andrews says:

    I was disappointed to see the Spokane and Colville reservations allowing wolf hunting. I appreciate that George Wuerthner, Brooks Fahy,& Tim Coleman are willing to say publicly they don’t agree with tribal governments that allow wolf hunting. Why not, the wolf hunting is harmful. I have lived and worked on reservations in the West.Tribal politics are complicated. I have respect for the tribes and also know tribal members are capable of good and bad actions. I suspect that there are tribal members who do not agree with the wolf hunting. We can condemn the wolf hunting, but I’m wondering if any of the other mentioned tribal environment groups around the country have reached out to these 2 tribes in Washington state to start discussions on possible changes in wolf hunting on tribal lands.

    • Ida Lupine says:

      Yes. Good post.

      We know that the Great Lakes tribes don’t agree with wolf hunting at all, and I appreciate that.

  6. Ida Lupine says:

    It is way, way too aggressive ‘management’, and I’m not surprised it is being downplayed. Hunting year-round? Killing pregnant females? It is extremely disappointing, and I won’t downplay it.

    To counteract the ill effects of this overly aggressive hunting campaign, F&W must make adjustments to the regular hunting season. I’m sure this will not be well received either.

  7. Robert Goldman says:

    As I wrote in the original and now deleted post, George is simply telling the truth, again. I wish the former comments had been transferred over. Makuye wrote a long, thoughtful and wise comment. It is pitiful and unacceptable that besides Predator Defense (thanks Brooks!), earth defender groups such as Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and others have chosen not to publicize and not oppose the significant killing of wolves by specific Indian tribes, certainly not all tribes. Tribes in the Upper MidWest are great wolf defenders. It is a deathly, complicit silence from defender groups that is completely antithetical to protecting the lives of all of America’s wolves, and it is dishonest towards those of us who support these silent groups. Earth First made itself irrelevant by adopting a far left ideology that destroyed that group’s influence to accomplish anything. Western Watersheds and the others must stay true to the mission of defending and restoring wolves, all native wildlife and as much of wild nature as possible. Stop the embrace of far left politics, including stultifying political correctness, that is already reducing the effectiveness of the mission we share. If so many wolves are being killed, in silence, that is proof enough that the mission has been compromised. Please do right by wolves, first of all, and wolf defenders who support you. Stick to being true to the wolf, wildlife and wild nature mission.

    • Chris Zinda says:


      • Robert Goldman says:

        Thanks, Chris. I appreciate your shares, too.
        After a brief subscription, I stopped subscribing to and reading Counterpunch, as it is too often a silly distraction to staying focused on being a focused and effective earth defender. Counterpunch’s writers, in my opinion, often present a very naive, immature view, with corresponding strange support for some of the more unworthy, violent causes and groups out there, particularly their more ignorant, politically correct and “hip” commentaries on foreign matters.
        Earth First! devolved into the same ideological swamp.
        A dozen years or so ago, I did a presentation on America’s wolves, and wolf protection, at the one and only Earth First! rendevous I attended. I actually had to work to convince some of the attendees, that America’s wolves are vital and precious native beings who must be protected and restored on this continent. Some of the attendees remained unconvinced. Huh?! Where was I?!
        The name should be changed from Earth First!, to Far Left “Intersectional” Causes First! with earth protection somewhere on the list only if it feels good.

        • Chris Zinda says:

          GW’s pieces show up in Counterpunch after publication here.

          I wonder which version will appear next week. (Not)

          • Robert Goldman says:

            Thanks for sharing that news. Counterpunch is a waste of time, in a way that too much of social media is.

  8. Robert Goldman says:

    Makuye, you posted a wise and valuable commentary on the earlier, now deleted version of George’s essay. I know it was long and may be hard to duplicate, but it was very meaningful. Can you re-post it somehow?

  9. Beeline says:

    Censorship is censorship. I see no excuses for it.

  10. Chris Zinda says:

    “And Wuerthner found it ironic that while five environmental groups recently sued WDFW and its commission over not implementing binding wolf-livestock conflict rules – a lawsuit that may (or may not) have been set up by a very-predator-friendly commissioner’s increasingly curious vote against implementing the new rules – “it appears the on-going slaughter of far more wolves by tribal people is not worthy of even mention or condemnation in their newsletters, LTE, or other media.”

    The quintet included Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds and Kettle Range Conservation Group.

    It’s quite the Gordian knot for members of Wuerthner’s community; one apparently only spoke to him for his article on the condition they not even be identified by sex.

    By way of explanation, he wrote, “I interviewed several wolf advocates for this article who refused to be quoted or identified for fear of being called out by WOKE advocates as racist. ‘No one,’ according to one individual I spoke with, ‘wants to condemn Indians for anything. They are now like the sacred cows of the ranching industry – immune from any discussion or criticism.’”


August 2022


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey