Tag Archives: LOUP LOUP PACK

WDFW Wardens’ Reports Add Details To Okanogan Wolf Encounter, Reaction

The Forest Service worker who stumbled onto the Loup Loup Pack’s rendezvous site actually twice climbed a tree, the second time after trying to use bear spray on a wolf that was just under 50 feet away from her and then “darted in several times.”

Those are among the new details emerging about the tense encounter the 25-year-old stream surveyor had in a remote part of North-central Washington’s Okanogan County earlier this month.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE RANGE OF THE LOUP LOUP PACK ALONG THE DIVIDE BETWEEN THE CHEWUCH AND OKANOGAN RIVERS IN NORTHERN OKANOGAN COUNTY. (WDFW)

The woman related them to WDFW Officer Justin Trautman during an interview following her extrication that day by a DNR helicopter crew.

Outside of some scrapes on her legs from clambering up and down the tree several times, she was not injured during the July 12 confrontation.

“(The woman) at no time stated that she feared for her life, but did state that she was afraid,” reads Trautman’s three-page after-action report, procured through a public disclosure request.

That and reports from two other WDFW officers add more information about the events leading up to and during the hectic hour as the woman awaited rescue while information rocketed between dispatchers and state, federal, county and search-and-rescue officials spread between the Okanogan and Methow Valleys and as far away as Moses Lake and Olympia.

INTERVIEWED IN A BREAK ROOM AT THE OMAK AIRPORT, the woman told Trautman that she was the state lead on a PIBO, or PacFish/InFish Biological Opinion Monitoring Program, project that surveys stream corridors to see if “aquatic conservation strategies can effectively maintain or restore the structure and function of riparian and aquatic systems.”

As she headed into the study area that day, she’d seen wolf tracks, and heard “barks and howls.”

The woman then saw a wolf cross a stream “and head in her direction where she had a face to face interaction with the wolf while on the phone with her boss,” Trautman’s report states.

Over the satellite phone, her supervisor told her to climb a tree, which she did.

But after 10 to 15 minutes, she climbed back down.

She then proceeded about 100 yards before she was “cut off by what she believed was the same wolf.”

“The wolf approached her as she took steps backwards and was very vocal towards the wolf,” Trautman’s report reads. “The wolf barked and growled at (the woman). (She) pulled out a can of bear spray and eventually deployed it but it was not able to reach the wolf.”

“(The woman) stated that the wolf was approximately 15 meters away when the interaction started. (She) stated that after she deployed the pepper spray in a quick warning type deployment the wolf darted in several times,” the officer writes.

Screaming at the wolf led it to back off and she climbed back up the tree again, the report says.

She told Trautman that the “interaction” lasted half a minute.

The woman then called her boss back and said she didn’t believe she would be able to leave the scene by herself.

As she waited for help she saw the wolf howl several times “in the distance,” Trautman’s report states.

When they reached her location, DNR pilot Devin Gooch and crewmember Matthew Harris saw two running wolves, they told Trautman during the interview.

DNR HELICOPTER CREW MEMBERS INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE, MATTHEW HARRIS, JARED HESS AND PILOT DEVIN GOOCH. (DNR)

QUESTIONS HAVE BEEN RAISED ABOUT the reactions three WDFW staffers — Trautman, a conflict specialist and a wolf biologist — had in the initial minutes of the incident not to send a chopper and instead hike to the scene on foot, an estimated two- or three-hour undertaking.

In a Capital Press article out two weeks ago, it was couched as due to the woman’s relative safety in the tree out of immediate danger, and the federally listed status of wolves in that part of Washington.

Trautman’s impetus appears to have also been partially based on his knowledge of the lay of the land and its lack of suitability for landing a helicopter, records show.

There was some confusion about the Forest Service having a researcher in the area of a known wolf den as well.

Ultimately WDFW acknowledged the hesitation was wrong.

“To tell the helicopter not to go was not the right call, and we have to own that,” agency wolf policy lead Donny Martorello told Press reporter Don Jenkins. “The right call was to send the helicopter. It goes without saying we value human life over everything else.”

In a subsequent editorial, the Press said that with “two wolves from the Loup Loup pack that seemed intent on making her lunch,” WDFW had flubbed the incident:

We can’t imagine that these experts really thought through the possible consequences for the young woman had it gone wrong, or considered the potential public relations disaster this episode presented.

How could they possibly spin leaving this woman clutching a tree for dear life for three hours while wolves circled below? And what did they think the optics would be if she lost her grip or otherwise made contact before rescuers arrived?

However, as the events were unfolding, public records show that other WDFW officers were in fact working to get a bird to the scene.

Officer Jason Day was off duty at his home near Carlton at the time when he independently learned of the situation from county search-and-rescue coordinator Rick Avery.

Day got in touch with Forest Service officer Dave Graves who told him there was a helicopter available at the Winthrop smoke jumper base, so he called his supervisor Sgt. Chris Busching in Moses Lake to request it be used.

“Yes! Yes! Absolutely,” Busching replied, Day’s report states.

Shortly afterward, however, it was learned that that aircraft was in fact a fixed-wing plane, so Day and Graves continued their search before Day learned from Avery that a helicopter was on the way and then from he and Graves that the woman had been picked up.

Sgt. Dan Christensen, the Okanogan County detachment lead, was in Olympia when he got a call from Trautman apprising him of the situation. The officer told him it might not be possible to land a chopper, but Christensen told Trautman “to contact DNR and send them in to get the researcher.”

Meanwhile, USFS and DNR had OKed a chopper to go in, according to the Capital Press, with DNR dispatcher Jill Jones arguing to Trautman that her department was “more concerned for [the woman’s] life than the [federally] listed animal” and it wasn’t clear how strong the tree was or how long she could hold out in it.

Reporter Jenkins wrote that according to dispatch logs, at one point DNR was going to fly into the hills anyway and “deal with aftermath of WDFW later.”

Inside the Natural Resources Building where both agencies are headquartered at the state capitol, DNR supervisor Chuck Turley went to WDFW’s Martorello to say he wanted to send the chopper, and so Martorello got him on the telephone with lead USFWS carnivore biologist Gregg Kurz.

Wolves in the western two-thirds of the state, including that part of Okanogan County where the encounter occurred, are still federally listed. USFWS is the lead agency there and works in cooperation with WDFW to manage the species.

After a brief explanation of the situation, Kurz told Turley and Martorello, “‘Absolutely’ (use the helicopter). ‘Human safety comes first,'” recalled USFWS spokesperson Ann Froschauer, who was sitting next to Kurz during the call. “That decision on our end was immediate.”

Fourteen minutes after it took off from Omak, DNR’s flight crew reached the woman’s location.

ULTIMATELY, THIS WILL ALL GO DOWN AS ANOTHER learning moment — for the woman, the myriad government agencies and the public at large.

While we’re now a decade into the recolonization of wolves in Washington, we’re still pretty new at all of this and it’s hard to predict every situation that will occur.

Hunters appear to have had the most encounters with wolves so far, including two other instances in Okanogan County, one in Kittitas County and another in Stevens County.

But it’s also at least the second involving a Forest Service employee. In that one, which occurred south of Republic in 2012, a surveyor’s dog was injured by two wolves.

This latest is a reminder to all who roam the wilds — hunters, anglers, hikers, forest workers, horsepackers, prospectors, mushroom pickers, dog walkers, etc., etc., etc. — to be aware of what to do if they encounter a wolf or wolves.

There’s no way that WDFW is going to share GPS data with us and it’s impossible to predict where uncollared dispersers might have denned up and chosen rendezvous sites, but precautions for being where wolves (or any big predators, for that matter) are or could be include being aware of your surroundings, going with multiple people, and carrying bear spray and/or a gun.

Following a 2011 incident on the divide between Lake Chelan and the Twisp River Valley, no less of a wolf expert than Carter Niemeyer told me it would have been wise of the hunter to have fired a shot in two wolves’ direction.

“No harm in teaching wolves to be wild and preventing any possible habituation behavior from developing,” Niemeyer said.

As Sgt. Christensen also noted in his report, “Under the ESA threats to a human allow for self-defense actions.”

If you feel your life is threatened and you act lethally, be prepared to answer questions as well as face public fallout from people who were not in your boots at the time but consider themselves to be wolf experts nonetheless.

More tips can be found on WDFW’s and Western Wildlife Outreach’s sites, and before he retired from the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Rich Landers posted a great video with advice following he and his dog Ranger’s encounter with two wolves last year.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM RICH LANDERS’ VIDEO ABOUT HIKING WITH DOGS IN WOLF COUNTRY. (YOUTUBE)

In this latest case, the Loup Loup Pack appears to have been defending its pups, trying to alter the woman’s course away from the rendezvous site, not so much looking for lunch, as Capital Press editorial writers would have it.

“She took many of the right actions,” Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest spokesperson Debbie Kelly told Northwest Sportsman. “She maybe could have left the area a little sooner.”

Who am I to judge, but she probably should have stayed parked in the tree too.

Efforts by Trautman to reach her satellite phone and further assess her situation were complicated by wrong numbers initially passed along by USFS and the fact that she had turned the device off to conserve battery power.

Both Kelly and USFWS’s Froschauer said the woman actually expected that a crew was going to hike to her location.

That a chopper came instead was “a bit of a surprise” for her, said Kelly.

While WDFW had informed local USFS officials about the location of the Loup Loup Pack’s den, a half mile from the rendezvous site, the woman did not know about it nor did she check with rangers before she’d headed afield that day, according to another Capital Press article.

Kelly said that some Forest Service employees such as wildlife biologists and those who work on grazing permits generally would “have a high level of knowledge about” wolves and den locations, but couldn’t say if that was broadly known among others in the district.

She said that field staffers do receive training for working in areas where large carnivores occur — pretty much the entire national forest.

“This employee received a good level of training. She was certified to carry bear spray,” Kelly said.

While the likelihood of predators like wolves attacking a person is pretty low, it is also not zero, as we saw with May’s fatal cougar attack.

They’re wild animals. Under sustained stress, human decision making can get worse.

My intention here is not to cause wolf hysteria but to continue to document all that comes with wolves resettling in Washington.

I think it’s useful to repeat the core of this incident, as summarized by WDFW Officer Day after Trautman called him following the airport interviews:

“The wolf bluff charged several times before the reporting party climbed a tree for safety,” Day wrote. “The wolf left. After approximately fifteen minutes, she exited the tree and attempted to leave. A wolf returned and again repeatedly charged, stopped short, and veered off. The reporting party went back up the tree and stayed there till extraction.”

Those who know wolves best, who yearn to have close encounters with wolves, are leading wolf tours, or relating their own zen moments near dens or rendezvous sites would do well to consider this before giving others only half paying attention the impression that everything around wolves is perfectly safe, lest another helicopter have to be scrambled.

Researcher Was At Wolf Pack’s Rendezvous Site, Near Den

Federal wildlife overseers say the researcher who had to be rescued from wolves yesterday in Northcentral Washington was at their gathering site and also within half a mile of the Loup Loup Pack’s den.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE RANGE OF THE LOUP LOUP PACK ALONG THE DIVIDE BETWEEN THE CHEWUCH AND OKANOGAN RIVERS IN NORTHERN OKANOGAN COUNTY. (WDFW)

“After an on-site investigation, USFWS and WDFW biologists have determined the site is a rendezvous site, and concluded that the wolves were acting in a defensive manner,” said Ann Froschauer of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Lacey.

With wolves still federally listed in the western two-thirds of Washington, USFWS is the lead management agency and works in cooperation with WDFW to manage the species.

It wasn’t clear why the unnamed person was where she was, however.

WDFW described the rescuee as a “U.S. Forest Service salmon researcher” and said it had notified local forest officials of the site of the Loup Loup Pack’s den in April.

An Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest spokesperson had not returned a phone call from earlier today.

Froschauer said the researcher had initially seen wolf tracks and heard barking and yipping before she was approached by wolves.

She tried to scare them away by “yelling, waving and deploying a can of bear spray in the direction of the wolves” but was unsuccessful and so she climbed a tree and radioed out for help around 12:30 p.m.

According to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, search-and-rescue personnel and deputies were called on to respond to the scene in the Twentymile Meadows area roughly 26 miles north of Winthrop, with officers told to shoot the wolves on sight if they were still surrounding the woman when they arrived.

WDFW fish and wildlife officers were also preparing to head for the site, through several miles of rough country north of Tiffany Springs Campground.

It would have taken them several hours to hike to the location, though, and in the meanwhile, at the request of the Tonasket Ranger District, a state Department of Natural Resources wildfire helicopter was dispatched from Omak.

According to previous reports, the wolves were still near the base of the tree the woman had climbed as the chopper arrived 14 minutes later, but scattered as it landed.

She was then safely rescued.

Froschauer says that the Loup Loup Pack’s den site is “within a kilometer of the site where the incident occurred” and that GPS collar data showed that the evening before, at least one of the pack’s adults was very close to it as well.

“Rendezvous sites are home or activity sites where weaned pups are brought from the den until they are old enough to join adult wolves in hunting activity,” she said.

Froschauer said that because of the location’s remoteness from campgrounds and trails and the “defensive nature of the encounter,” USFWS doesn’t believe there’s a threat to human safety.

Federal and state biologists plan to monitor collar data from the two adult wolves.

Sheriff Rogers told regional public radio reporter Courtney Flatt he didn’t need to deal with any more wolf encounters; three notable ones have now occurred in the county since 2011.

“I’ve tried to tell people, it’s not like the movies. The wolves aren’t running around in packs hunting humans. But if you see a pack, don’t antagonize it. If it’s feeding, for god’s sake, stay away from it. If you run upon a den, stay away from it,” he told the journalist.

A statement from Conservation Northwest said that though attacks by wolves on people are “exceedingly rare,” they are territorial around dens and gathering points.

“Barking is often a warning to stay away from pups or food sources. Thankfully nobody was harmed,” the statement said.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is pleased at the successful rescue of the individual, and commends the quick action of our partners in their rescue efforts,” said Froschauer.

She says that wolves are generally wary of people but also advised “taking precautions such as being aware of your surroundings, hiking and camping in groups, and carrying bear spray to help avoid potential conflicts.”

She pointed to Western Wildlife Outreach as a good source of information.

DNR Chopper Crew In On Wolf Rescue Recognized

A four-member state wildfire chopper crew is being recognized for their part in a mission to rescue a woman who’d clambered up a tree after feeling threatened by wolves yesterday in Northcentral Washington.

DNR CREW MEMBERS ON YESTERDAY’S RESCUE MISSION INCLUDED DARYL SCHIE (HELICOPTER MANAGER), MATTHEW HARRIS (CREW), JARED HESS (CREW) AND DEVIN GOOCH (PILOT). (DNR)

After taking off from Omak following a request for assistance from the Tonasket Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the helicopter, piloted by Department of Natural Resources pilot Devin Gooch, was able to get to the remote location in the Twentymile Meadows area in 14 minutes.

According to The Seattle Times, the woman — initially described as a research student surveying the area but termed by DNR as affiliated with the Forest Service — had encountered one wolf there and attempted to use pepper spray on it, but with the arrival of a second wolf, she took to a tree and called for help.

Though DNR choppers aren’t typically used for rescues, getting to the location some 26 miles north of Winthrop on foot would have taken two hours, according to Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.

DNR Commissioner Hilary Franz said she was proud of the crew, calling them “tremendous assets to our communities,” and said that Gooch “truly exemplifies what it means to serve our public.”

It’s not yet clear what triggered the event, whether there was a den, rendezvous site or kill nearby, or what the woman was surveying, but local Forest Service officials are expected to provide more details on the latter shortly.

Research Student Rescued After Surrounded by Wolves

FINAL UPDATE 11:48 A.M., JULY 13, 2018: This link is the latest information on what happened during the incident.

A research student had to be rescued north of Winthrop today after she was surrounded by wolves at their rendezvous site and near their den.

The woman who was surveying in the West Fork Twentymile Creek area of northcentral Okanogan County, near Tiffany Springs and in the range of the Loop Loop Pack, called authorities around 12:30 p.m. that she had clambered 30 feet up a tree after encountering the wolves, it was reported by KREM 2 in Spokane and the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune based on a press release from Sheriff Frank Rogers.

The Seattle Times reported that she had initially encountered one and tried to pepper spray it before another arrived and she retreated up the tree.

Okanogan County deputies were initially given the go-ahead to shoot the animals on sight if they were still there when they arrived, according to the release.

Rogers told the Times that that would have been a two-hour hike for his officers.

DNR volunteered a helicopter that could get to the scene in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in less than a quarter hour and the crew was able to rescue her.

The wolves were still in the area upon the aircraft’s arrival, but scattered when it landed, according to reports.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the woman was researching, but in recent years Washington wolves have been the subject of university studies for interactions with livestock and big game.

At the end of 2017, there were at least two wolves in the Loup Loup Pack. If they were able to breed and have a litter this spring, there could be several growing pups.

It is not the first unnerving encounter between humans and wolves in Okanogan County. A lone hunter scouting for deer west of Winthrop was followed by two wolves in September 2011, and in September 2013 a hunter in the Pasayten Wilderness shot and killed a wolf after feeling threatened by it.

Others have occurred in Stevens and Kittitas Counties, also with hunters.

As the incident occurred in the still federally listed portion of Washington, USFWS is the lead agency. Late Thursday night, a WDFW official said the Service is developing a statement.

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of when it first became general public knowledge that there was a pack of wolves in Okanogan County, the state’s first since the 1930s. There are now nearly two dozen packs and a minimum of 122 wolves, nearly all east of the Cascade crest.

Washington Wolf Maps Reveal Canid’s Spread, Real And Otherwise

Say what you will about wolves, the predators’ peregrinations make for fascinating stuff.

At least to cartography and wandering wildlife geeks such as myself.

A pair of new Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife maps are revealing more about the ranges and ranginess of the state’s wolves over the past decade.

Both are based off data from all the GPS collars WDFW has strapped to various breeding males and females and other pack members since 2008.

(Dozens upon dozens more wolves over the years haven’t been collared.)

One shows nearly 72,000 of their locations — gulp, they’ve got Deer Camp surrounded, boys!

(WDFW)

Well, from the 35,000 foot level they do.

Though the GPS locations of wolves on the Colville and Spokane Reservations aren’t included, it represents “the most complete dataset currently available of wolf telemetry in Washington State,” according to WDFW.

Many of the green dots correspond to known pack areas in Northeast Washington, Kittitas County and the Blue Mountains.

But there’s a relatively surprising amount of wolf activity in state and federal lands between the Chewuch and Okanogan Valleys — the well-tracked Loup Loup Pack appears to roam north of its state-identified territory, or there’s a second pack with a collared animal there.

It also shows where the Marblemount wolf, which was captured and collared last spring, is hanging out.

The other new WDFW map shows the dispersal paths of 14 telemetry-bearing wolves since 2012, several of which are rather remarkable.

I’ve reported on two of these before — the Teanaway female shot in a British Columbia pig sty, the Smackout male that ventured into the province’s Coast Range due north of Neah Bay and set up a territory.

Another was killed in Central Montana.

But I believe this is the first time I’ve seen the winding path one took to the Cowboy State.

The wolf exited Washington north of Spokane, followed I-90 east into western Montana, trotted into the lower Bitterroot Valley before heading back southwest over Lolo Pass and down the Lochsa to the Clearwater, then south past Riggins and Cascade, Idaho, to the Boise area, loped across the north side of the Snake River Plain to Yellowstone National Park, then angled to the southeast towards the heart of Wyoming.

The new maps were part of a presentation to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission earlier this month by Donny Martorello, WDFW’s wolf policy advisor.

The next time he talks to the citizen oversight panel, probably in March, he’ll have an updated pack range map, if that first map above is any indication.

Here’s what the one the agency published late last winter looked like:

(WDFW)

Damnit, I gotta get to work now, but I’m going to leave one final WDFW wolf map here, one I closely watch for “clusters” of citizen reports.

They’re an indication of possible wolf activity for biologists to check out —  there may be something going on south of Snoqualmie Pass and in the upper Lewis River watershed — and help keep tabs on known packs, reconfirming activity.

(WDFW)

But while WDFW’s new GPS maps do lend credence to many public observations by showing the locations of actual wolves and the campfire sparklike spread of dispersers, some state residents’ reports are, shall we say, slightly less likely to have been actual wolves, especially those coming from the I-5/405 corridor, where an inordinate number are annually spotted in the shrubberies.

Here are a couple of my favorites from this year:

No doubt.

WDFW Reports Second Sherman Pack Depredation, 5 Recent Wolf Deaths

The Sherman Pack attacked and killed a calf for the second time in a month, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The confirmed depredation was outlined today in a wolf update from the agency.

(WDFW)

The fresh carcass was found Wednesday, July 12, by a range rider, similar to last month, and also within 200 yards of that wolf kill, on a Bureau of Land Management grazing allotment in Ferry County.

According to WDFW, bite marks and other wounds on the calf as well as GPS collar data from the Sherman male “clearly indicate a wolf depredation.”

The producer uses five range riders and has been patrolling the area since even before turning their cattle out in late May on private ground, say state wolf managers.

They say there are no known dens or rendezvous sites in the area.

Under the agency’s new protocols, just three depredations, including one probable, in a 30-day period, could lead to the beginning of lethal removals. Last year it was four confirmed.

In other Washington wolf news from the update, WDFW reports that a Goodman Meadows Pack male that was captured in collared in January was legally harvested in Idaho;

That a Dirty Shirt Pack male that dispersed to Salmo Pack country in April was subsequently lethally removed by British Columbia officials trying to protect rare woodland caribou;

That the deaths of another Dirty Shirt wolf as well as one from the Loup Loup Pack are under investigation;

And that a wolf that had been part of the Huckleberry Pack in 2014 was recently mortally wounded by a vehicle collision further north this month and was dispatched by WDFW staff.

Killings wolves in Washington is illegal, and west of Highways 97, 17 and 395, where they are listed under ESA, a federal offense.

The update also includes proactive deterrence measures being used on a number of packs, recent activities of those wolves and community outreach provided by WDFW and volunteers.

Pretty interesting reading.