The apparent wolf struck by a vehicle on I-90 less than 42 road miles east of downtown Seattle is not the first one confirmed to be west of the crest.
The Associated Press is reporting that it is “the first verification that the controversial animals have crossed the Cascade Range.”
Rather, it represents the furthest westward known advance of the species in Washington.
Since at least 2011, a wolf or wolves have been hanging out near the upper end of Ross Lake in the upper Skagit River, which drains into northern Puget Sound.
The most recent WDFW Wildlife Program report includes this image of one by Hozomeen Campground in late January:
“Tracks found in the [Ross Lake] drawdown found by park staff and fisheries biologists suggest the presence of more than one individual,” states the April 13 report.
WDFW’s wolf map has included a gray-shaded circle around this country since at least 2012. The coloring denotes a suspected pack or one that dens outside Washington — under USFWS conventions, only packs that shack up within a state are counted towards its recovery goals.
To be sure, WDFW’s wolf observation map includes numerous citizen reports further west than either the Hozomeen or North Bend wolves, and while those are considered unconfirmed, earlier this week the agency’s wolf policy lead Dave Ware said the latter animal represented “pretty good evidence that wolves are probably moving into and around western Washington, although we have not yet documented a pack.”
In past years there have been reports from outside Enumclaw and around Mt. St. Helens, but so far no confirmations.
Technically speaking, there’s a “wild” wolf not far outside WDFW HQ in Olympia — the Ruby Creek female now lodged at Wolf Haven in Tenino after becoming habituated to hanging out around homes and barnyard animals in the Pend Oreille Valley town of Ione.
While the bulk of Washington residents who want wolves live on the west side of the crest, none are actually required to reside here under WDFW’s three-zone recovery plan. Wolf advocates had wanted a fourth in the Willapa Hills and Olympic Peninsula, but the Fish & Wildlife Commission didn’t go for that.
Still, it’s highly likely more wolves will follow this week’s animal’s path west into the rainy side of the state.
IN OTHER NEWS, Washington wolf manager Donny Martorello reports state trappers were able to capture a black-coated yearling female member of the Smackout Pack yesterday.
He says it was given a GPS collar. That should help with range-riding efforts, as last year, telemetry on the pack was lost after a cougar ate the breeding male last spring.
The yearling’s coat color is the same as that of the I-90 wolf, and DNA samples could link it to that pack or others in the northeastern corners of Washington or Oregon, or further abroad.
A USFWS spokesman says results from the lab are expected in four to six weeks.
Brent Lawrence also confirmed that the wolf was killed by a vehicle, and said that it had likely been a large truck.
He added that a second reported roadkill to the west of where the wolf was found could not be located by USFWS staff.