No, wolves don’t have rainbows shooting out of their butts, but what is being excreted from the wild canids’ back end had the attention of state senators in Olympia this afternoon.
They learned that among the more than 1,100 scat samples collected in South Cascades by poop-sniffing dogs last year are suggestions that there are indeed wolves in a part of Washington that none are known to occur, key for meeting statewide recovery goals.
And DNA from wolf doots collected in the state’s wolf-heavy northeast corner paint a highly complex picture of packs’ numbers, diets, movements and even pregnancy rates — one rising pack had three females in the family way, per se, at a single time in a recent winter.
Those were among the highlights of a presentation that Dr. Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology gave to members of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.
It was an interesting hour or so rich with presentations, graphs, maps that added to what’s known about the wild dogs here.
There were details on the diet of wolves in Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties — primarily deer but also moose and to a much lesser degree elk — as well as coyotes there, including a stronger percentage of moose than you might expect from the diminutive dogs — but are they merely scavenging wolf kills?
Just as senators heard that wolf and coyote densities differ markedly, they also learned that the predator-prey study aims to look at the effect of whether the former reduces numbers of the latter and thus their predation on fawns, as well as sort out the interactions between wolves and cougars and whether the big cats have to kill more often to make up for the wild dogs taking their quarry.
They learned that Washington’s wolf population continues to rise by an average of 30 percent a year, even as 22 have been killed to try and head off livestock depredations that have also occurred at a lower rate than in the Northern Rockies states.
And they saw how collecting dung with dogs and then sequencing it could give much more accurate wolf counts. Two years’ worth from Pend Oreille and Colville Valley packs show at least 60 different wolves and an estimated 68 there between April 2015 and February 2016 and 92 and likely 95 between October 2016 and June 2017.
“The dogs got samples from almost every single wolf,” Wasser said.
While WDFW has been careful to stress that its annual wolf counts are minimums and that more are likely out there, this new information will begin to put up a better ceiling on numbers.
After the presentations senators asked several questions, including one whether it was possible to breed for nondepredating wolves, which Wasser said was impossible.
Chase Gunnell at Conservation Northwest said his organization believes there are north of 150 wolves running around the state and was excited to see the upcoming 2018 year-end census.
“We strongly support the stewardship of these species, and believe wolf conservation and management must find a balance that works in the long run—for wolves, people and all the Northwest’s wildlife,” he said.