Wildlife biologists are busy this winter capturing whitetail and mule deer, elk and cougars across parts of the northern tier of Eastern Washington as part of a study to better determine the effect wolf recolonization is having on populations of prey and predator and across a variety of landscapes.
Operations began in January in Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties, and followed up with efforts in western Okanogan County later in the month, the areas where the bulk of Washington’s wolf packs reside.
Plans call for more than 200 ungulates to be radio-collared during the duration of the five-year study, along with a dozen and a half or so cougars.
The goal is to also have telemetry on at least a pair of wolves in each pack in the study area, which encompasses the range of eight or nine packs.
Biologists from WDFW are being assisted by those from the University of Washington, US Forest Service, Kalispel and Colville Tribes and others, according to information gleaned from recent Wildlife Program reports.
In mid-January they reported capturing 17 elk in the Huckleberry and 49 Degrees North Game Management Units, which was “considered a success” by the agency because of how widely distributed wapiti in this part of Washington are.
In late January, biologists were capturing and collaring mule deer on the Methow Wildlife Area.
As wolves have recovered elsewhere in the West, they’ve affected the behavior of deer and elk herds, and this study would appear to try and get a grasp on how that interplay is developing in Washington.
It will likely build on research from the University of Washington which has been studying deer and wolves in eastern Okanogan County for several years.
“This study concentrates on multiple-use lands used by people for activities such as logging, livestock ranching and hunting,” WDFW scientist John Pierce said in a press release Wednesday afternoon. “In that way it differs from most other studies on the impact of wolves, which tend to be conducted in national parks and other protected areas.”
The first confirmed pack of wolves in Washington turned up in 2008. Last year there were 19 known packs and 90 known individuals. It’s likely that the 2016 year-end count will tally a minimum of more than 100 wolves, even after the Profanity Peak Pack removals.
Nearly $2 million in funding is being dedicated to this new predator-prey study, with money coming from the state legislature, Pittman-Robertson Act and National Science Foundation.