Q&A with Geography Ph.D. Alum Rob Anderson: Managing Washington’s gray wolf population – through fear

Submitted by Nell Gross on

The high-profile reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 is generally considered a conservation success: Gray wolf packs inside and outside the park gradually established new populations. In Washington, wolves were largely absent for decades until a pack was identified in the northeastern part of the state in 2008.

But wolf recovery also has been controversial. Over time, various federal and state protections have been placed, then lifted, then placed again. Conflict often arises when wolves return to rural landscapes that are also used for grazing, where they sometimes attack and kill livestock, and where anti-wolf sentiment is often high. In northeast Washington in February, six gray wolves were found dead, and an investigation later found they had been poisoned. Earlier this fall, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife killed two wolves from a pack that had preyed on cattle, and mistakenly shot a wolf pup.

Such instances in Washington are relatively rare, but they underscore the very specific challenges between humans and wolves, explains Rob Anderson, who studied this issue as part of his doctorate in geography from the University of Washington. He is lead author of a paper on nonlethal wolf management tactics recently published in The Canadian Geographer, with co-authors including Alex McInturff, a UW assistant professor of environmental and forest management.