A North Cascades National Park official is shedding light on his revelations yesterday that there may be two or three packs of wolves there.
That news caught Washington state wolf managers off guard during a Wednesday morning interagency teleconference they’d organized because their maps and updates this year don’t report any packs in the park itself.
But at the same time, information federal wildlife biologist Jason Ransom shared with Northwest Sportsman today does correspond to locations wolves are known to occur in the northern Cascade Range, have been spotted in recent years or is not that far from previous pack ranges.
And more to the point, it shows that additional attention should be focused on this remote region of the state, especially as the important winter population and breeding pair counts near.
“Bottom line is there is quite a lot more activity in the park over the last year or two,” says Ransom “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Hozomeen wolves had a den in the park, but we just don’t know about it if they do. Same goes for the other areas. We’ve certainly gotten a lot more track reports this year, which could mean some localized use.”
Hozomeen is located near the northern end of the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, part of the federal land complex in the region.
Up until early 2016 WDFW maps did identify a pack there, though it was shaded differently because the wolves were believed to den in British Columbia, which in standard protocols means it didn’t count towards state delisting goals. Per the agency’s website, “Packs may be removed from the map due to natural breakup of the pack, lethal control, or no longer detected.”
Ransom says that wolves here are occasionally turning up on trail cameras on either side of the border, mostly on the east side of Ross.
“We’ve seen up to three animals together in winter, which meets the state definition of a pack. We’ve also picked up tracks of two individuals traveling on the west bank of Ross Lake, but we have no way of knowing if those are the Hozomeen wolves or others,” he says. “Otherwise, we continue to receive anecdotal reports of tracks by backcountry staff in the area, and generally interpret those reports as some likelihood the same wolves detected on camera are using that area of the park through time. ”
This past May and June saw a flurry of activity around Marblemount, where biologists ultimately confirmed a lone 100-pound, two- to three-year-old male. Ransom said there have been “anecdotal visitor and staff reports” on this side of the park, it’s western face, over the past two years, including different-colored and multiple animals.
He says that one of two trail cams deployed picked up a canid whose “behavior and general structure of the animal strongly suggests a wolf rather than coyote,” but it won’t be till next year before the devices are checked again.
Most intriguing might be reports from the southern end of the park, between Highway 20 and Lake Chelan. Ransom says there’s been “quite a bit of activity from multiple individuals” there over the last year, “including at least one detection event of two animals together in late winter/early spring.”
That isn’t too far west from where the state’s first confirmed pack, the Lookouts, roamed, sightings of which have been few and far between this year, with WDFW capturing in mid-September what it said was just the second trail camera image of a wolf in that territory since last winter.
“This year, we’ve detected at least three individuals in the southern part of the park based on color and markings, with several other detections that could be the same animals or different ones,” says Ransom. “Wolves were detected on at least eight cameras in the area this year, roughly south of Mt. Logan to the head of Lake Chelan.”
Logan sits in the headwaters of Thunder Creek, itself an arm of Diablo Lake, and North Fork Bridge Creek, which ultimately drains into Chelan via Bridge Creek and the Stehekin River.
“Like elsewhere in the park, we’ve received numerous anecdotal reports of tracks from field staff in the backcountry and generally interpret those reports as some likelihood the same wolves detected on camera are using those general areas of the park,” Ransom adds.
He says DNA from scat might be able to determine whether the south park wolves and Lookouts are related, but also notes that only 80 percent of samples sequence out.
Following yesterday’s teleconference, WDFW wolf policy manager Donny Martorello said state staffers were looking into the park service’s reports. He said the agency, which reports to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, confirms packs in Washington.
Next March there may be more dots on the map.