Dr. Samuel Wasser and his dung-detection dogs are set to begin searching for wolves in Washington’s South Cascades, where the number of public wolf reports is growing but no packs let alone breeding pairs are known to exist.
The University of Washington researcher heads up Conservation Canines, which received $172,000 from state lawmakers earlier this year to survey a 2,000-square-mile patch of countryside between I-90 and the Columbia River.
Conservation Canines field technician Jennifer Hartman and dog Scooby collect a sample during carnivore research in Northeast Washington’s Colville National Forest. (JAYMI HEIMBUCH)
Since 1997, Wasser and his rescue dogs have been deployed around the world to help monitor other species, collecting poop the pups find for labs to analyze.
Sending handlers and their canine companions into the woods and meadows around Mts. Rainier, Adams and St. Helens should produce results faster than leaving it to wildlife biologists chasing down intriguing leads or hoping to cut tracks in winter’s snows.
“Our goal is to maximize coverage of the study area, sampling all areas around the same time, within and between seasons to maximize comparison,” explains Wasser.
“Currently, the plan is for a fall and spring sampling, the latter being important to sample for pregnant females. We are still gathering data to identify the best sampling areas. Cost permitting, we hope to have four teams.”
While WDFW’S latest wolf map shows no known packs south of I-90 in the Southern Cascades and Northwest Coast recovery zone, there have been numerous public reports in recent years from the mountains here, as an agency map illustrates. (WDFW)
Wasser has 17 dogs, including Hiccup, who’s also trained to find moose doots.
Which ones are deployed to the recesses of the Gifford Pinchot and south ends of the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests hasn’t been determined yet, but he’s confident in his pack’s abilities.
“If there are wolves south of I-90, the odds of the dogs locating them should be quite high,” Wasser says. “Colonizing wolves range widely, our dogs can cover huge areas, and their ability to detect samples if present is extraordinary.”
Under the state’s wolf delisting scenarios, there must be at least four breeding pairs here to meet the management plan’s current recovery goals.
If wolves are found, that might decrease the need to translocate packs here from elsewhere in Washington, notably the northeast corner where most territories are full and conflicts with livestock occur annually.
State wildlife managers haven’t been inclined to move wolves around, despite that tool in the plan, but earlier this year Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) successfully kick-started efforts to at least consider it.
Legislators also asked Wasser to gather data on the effect any wolves in the region might be having on predator-prey dynamics, and if they’re not, establish base-line data for when they arrive.