Tag Archives: usfws

Lower 48 Gray Wolf Delisting Proposal Going Out For Comment

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to delist gray wolves in the rest of the Lower 48 will go out for comment tomorrow when it is officially posted on the Federal Register.


“While wolves in the gray wolf entity currently occupy only a portion of wolf historical range, the best available information indicates that the gray wolf entity is recovered and is not now, nor likely in the foreseeable future, to be negatively affected by past, current, and potential future threats such that the entity is in danger of extinction,” reads a portion of the 158-page document now available for previewing.

USFWS says that species don’t have to be recovered throughout their former range — essentially impossible with all the development since their large-scale extirpation — to be delisted from the Endangered Species Act, but that it would continue to monitor populations for five years, like it did with the Northern Rockies wolves and which have continued to thrive under state management.

The agency says that delisting will let it focus on species that still need help.

“Every species kept on the Endangered Species List beyond its point of recovery takes valuable resources away from those species still in need of the act’s protections,” USFWS said in a press release officially announcing the proposal.

Word first came out last week from Department of Interior Acting Secretary David Bernhardt that it was pending.

There are now more than 6,000 wolves in the Lower 48, primarily in the Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes, but those populations are spreading out.

Just last week it became clear that there was likely a wolf or wolves within miles of the Pacific in Southern Oregon after state managers there reported one was probably to blame for a large-scale sheep depredation near Cape Blanco.

Gray wolves were delisted in Idaho, Montana and the eastern thirds of Oregon and Washington in 2011. This new proposal would extend that the western two-thirds of both states and elsewhere, if it is approved. A similar bid in 2013 was challenged in court and the effort was derailed, but quietly began again last June.

“Our deepest gratitude goes to all our conservation partners in this victory, particularly the states and tribes who are committed to wolf conservation and will continue this legacy forward,” said USFWS Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson in the press release.

ODFW and WDFW last week reiterated that they’re ready to take over management of gray wolves across their respective states. It would level the playing field, per se, in dealing with depredations, but would not mean an immediate free-fire zone as the species would remain under state protections for the time being.

Publication on the Federal Register starts a 60-day comment period.

ODFW Reports ‘Probable’ Wolf Attack On Sheep Not Far From Pacific

Oregon wolf managers are reporting a “probable depredation” within miles of the Pacific Ocean.

They say that over a two week period between late February and earlier this week, the carcasses of 23 sheep — nearly all lambs — were found by a producer and USDA Wildlife Services in a “partially fenced” private pasture in Curry County’s White Mountain area, which by the gazetteer is just east of Denmark and Langlois along a lonely stretch of Highway 101 by Cape Blanco.

Examinations of several carcasses “were consistent with a wolf attack, but lack diagnostic evidence to clearly differentiate between wolf and domestic dog,” leading to the probable determination.

If a wolf, it is likely to be a disperser.

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The incident occurred in that part of Oregon where wolves still are federally listed and thus where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead agency.

Neither federal nor state managers are currently monitoring any known wolves in Curry County, though tracks on the Pistol River, to the south between Gold Beach and Brookings, were investigated last year and were determined to be “consistent with a wolf” by an ODFW biologist.

A trail cam photo from last fall taken near a “possible/unknown” sheep depredation nearby in Coos County, to the north, captured a “blurry” picture of an animal “that could have been a wolf or dog.”

Cameras have been set up near the site of the attack on the White Mountain flock to see if anything returns.

The public can report wolves in Oregon on this ODFW webpage.

The news comes as today USFWS announced it proposed to delist gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Oregon and Washington as well as elsewhere in the Lower 48.

Feds To Propose Delisting Gray Wolves In Rest Of WA, OR, Lower 48

Editor’s note: Updated 12:15 p.m. March 7, 2019, with comments from WDFW.

Federal wildlife overseers are proposing to delist gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon and elsewhere across the Lower 48.


The news was reported by the Associated Press this morning.

“Today, Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon propose a rule to delist the gray wolf in the Lower 48 states and return management of the species back to the states and tribes,” confirmed a USFWS spokesperson.

Bernhardt is in Denver for the 84th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference.

The official termed the recovery of gray wolves — which began with the formation of packs in Northwest Montana in the 1980s and then federal reintroductions in Central Idaho and Yellowstone in the 1990s — “one of our nation’s great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species, such as the bald eagle, that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the (Endangered Species Act).”

Yes, a success, but also a flashpoint, and surely this latest attempt will lead to more court challenges, like those that derailed 2013’s proposal.

That one followed on 2011’s successful delisting in the eastern two-thirds of Washington and Oregon, as well as all of Idaho and Montana.

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Last June, federal officials again began reviewing the status of wolves outside the Northern Rockies recovery zone, with the goal of putting it out for public comment by the end of 2018.

That didn’t quite happen, but now it appears that it has.

“Once the proposed rule has published in the Federal Register, the public will have an opportunity to comment,” the USFWS spokesperson said via email.

If it goes through, among the notable impacts would be that WDFW and ODFW would have a more level playing field for dealing with wolf depredations. They can lethally remove members of livestock-attacking packs in far Eastern Washington and Oregon, but west of a line that snakes across both regions they can’t.

Still, it wouldn’t be an immediate free-fire zone, as both states stress nonlethal conflict avoidance tactics in trying to prevent depredations in the first place.

 “We haven’t gotten any official confirmation, and it’s likely this would be a drawn-out process, but if protections were lifted all of Oregon’s wolves would fall under the state management plan,” ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy told Salem Statesman-Journal outdoor reporter Zach Urness. “We’re ready to handle this if the federal rules are lifted.”

WDFW’s wolf policy lead Donny Martorello echoed that sentiment.

“We have adequate protections for wolves in this state,” he said.

The agency has felt that way for several years, in fact, encouraging USFWS to delist wolves in the rest of Washington and asking a state US House lawmaker to spur the feds as well.

“The best available science shows that the gray wolf has successfully recovered from the danger of extinction and no longer requires federal protection,” said that Congressman, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Yakima Valley) in a press release. “We can see in Washington state that the wolf population is growing quickly while being effectively managed by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife in the eastern third of the state. I applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s for moving forward with a proposal to delist the wolf in the lower 48 states in order to return management to the states.”

Despite the fears of wolf advocates and highly litigious organizations, wolf populations have grown best largely in the state-managed areas.

“We’re reviewing the delisting proposal from USFWS and we empathize with concerns from colleagues in states such as California and Colorado where wolves have not yet recovered,” said Chase Gunnell, spokesman for Seattle’s Conservation Northwest. “However, given the quality of Washington’s Wolf Plan and investments in collaborative wolf management work here, we do not expect federal delisting to have a significant impact on wolves in our state. Wolf recovery is progressing well in Washington and our wolves will remain a state endangered species until state recovery goals are met.”

Martorello said that the speed at which a federal delisting proposal would likely move would “synch” with WDFW’s own look at how well the species is doing.

Today’s news comes as the state has also begun its own status review of gray wolves, which are state-listed as endangered.

“The department will review all relevant data pertaining to the population status and factors affecting existence of wolves in Washington. Based on the information collected and reviewed, the department will make recommendations to maintain the species current listing status as endangered or reclassify species to sensitive or threatened or other status,” an agency statement says.

A bill in the state legislature also prompts WDFW to wrap up the review by the end of December, though it was amended to remove the possibility of considering delisting in the eastern third of the state as well as made “null and void” if funding for the work wasn’t included in the budget.

Former WDFW Director Selected For USFWS Science Position

Jim Unsworth, whose resignation from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife took effect a year ago this month, has been hired for a new role with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


He will begin work as the federal agency’s Pacific Region Assistant Regional Director for Science Applications later this month.

“Based in Portland, his staff provides technical guidance, collaborative landscape-level conservation, and science-related funding opportunities to partners throughout the Pacific Region, which includes Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands, including America Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. As a member of the Regional Directorate, Unsworth will serve as the senior scientist in the agency’s largest and most biologically diverse region,” a USFWS press release out earlier this week states.

With multiple degrees and fish and wildlife management from universities in the Northwest, Unsworth worked his way up through the Idaho Department of Fish and Game before being hired by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in early 2015.

He had a rocky three-year tenure at WDFW that was complicated by deteriorating ocean conditions affecting salmon returns and fisheries management, among numerous factors, and in early 2018 he announced his resignation to “pursue other personal and professional goals in wildlife and natural resource management.”

Unsworth appears to have found those outlets with his new job.

“The science portfolio of the Pacific Northwest is in excellent hands,” said Robyn Thorson, USFWS regional director, in the press release. “The Service, our partners and the public will benefit from Jim’s proven leadership skills and collaborative approach to conservation. Dr. Unsworth’s state experience and impressive science credentials will continue our positive momentum on partnership-based landscape conservation.”

Congress Moving Different Directions On Sea Lions, Wolves

Attempts in Congress to give state managers more latitude to deal with two of the most polarizing predators in the Northwest these days are going in opposite directions.

Yesterday saw the US Senate pass a bill that would expand where sea lions could be removed on the Columbia River system, and while the House of Representatives must still concur, a bill delisting gray wolves passed last month by the lower chamber will not go anywhere in the upper house in December, it now appears.


The Manage Our Wolves Act, cosponsored by two Eastern Washington Republican representatives will likely die in the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works as federal lawmakers’ workload piles up at the end of the two-year session.

Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) indicated federal budgetary issues would take precedence, according to a report from the DC Bureau of the McClatchy news service.

And even if the Republican-controlled Senate were to still pass the bill in 2019, with November’s election changing the balance of power in the House, a spokeswoman for the new chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), told wire reporter Kellen Browning flatly that the panel won’t be moving any delisting legislation while he is in charge over the next two years.

It’s probably best to let the biologists determine when a species is recovered rather than run things through Congress like this, but that also takes time and meanwhile frustrations mount over very real concerns and unintended consequences of 1970s’ environmental protections, and the drag-it-out-in-the-courts approach the laws have inspired in some in the environmental community.

In the case of the wolves of the river, Marine Mammal Protection Act-listed sea lions are taking unacceptably large bites out of Endangered Species Act-listed Columbia salmon and steelhead, putting their recovery — not to mention the tens, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it — in the watershed at increasing risk.

With pushing from fishermen, state wildlife agencies, tribal managers, even conservation organizations, a bipartisan coalition of Northwest senators and representatives has now been able get sea lion bills passed in both houses of Congress this year.

But even as we live in an era when the back door to delistings and amended protections is being opened wider and wider, it appears that for the time being we’ll need to go through the front one, the traditional way, to clear the wolves of the woods off the ESA list.

Once again.

Back in June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly announced that it had begun to review the status of the species in the Lower 48 for, what, the third? fourth? time since the early 2000s due to court actions.

That could lead to the delisting of gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington, Oregon and elsewhere in their range, handing over management from USFWS to WDFW, ODFW and other agencies.


This morning I asked the feds for an update on how that was proceeding and they sent me a statement that was very similar to one they emailed out around the summer solstice.

Here’s what today’s said:

“The USFWS is currently reviewing the status of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Working closely with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, we will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the lower 48 states using the best available scientific information. On completion of the review, the Service will, if appropriate, publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.”

With six long months ahead of it, June’s version had this as the third sentence: “If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year.”

Now it’s more open-ended.

And comparing a second paragraph USFWS sent along as background, the update has removed the words “under the previous administration,” a reference to the 2013 proposal by the Obama Administration’s USFWS Director Dan Ashe.

The rest of that para touches on the “sound science” that went into that determination and the court action that subsequently derailed it.

It sounds like the science is strong with the sea lion removal authorization, so let’s hope that once the House agrees and president signs it, it isn’t challenged in court, and if it is, that it clears the hurdles that are thrown up — and which lead to bypassing the judicial system all together.

New Website Will Help Track Where Coho Are Dying Early In Puget Sound Streams


Salmon exposed to toxic stormwater runoff can die in a matter of hours, and scientists are asking for Puget Sound area residents’ help in identifying affected streams to study the phenomenon.


Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) and Washington State University (WSU), collectively called the Puget Sound Stormwater Science Team (PSSST), have been studying the effects of stormwater runoff on Pacific salmon species for almost two decades. Working to narrow down the toxic chemicals that are likely responsible, the team is unveiling a new interactive website that lets citizen volunteers help map salmon deaths.

As urban growth and development continues in the Puget Sound region, scientists anticipate that the coho mortality syndrome will expand, and will have significant impacts on wild coho populations. This is where area residents come in- helping scientists identify the extent of the phenomenon, and continue to refine scientists’ understanding at the toxic chemicals at play in affected areas.

“Media coverage of our work last year inspired some members of the public to report observations of coho suffering from the syndrome,” said Jay Davis, environmental toxicologist with the USFWS. “We realized that residents of the Puget Sound region can provide important data to help us document affected watersheds. There are potentially thousands of toxic chemicals in stormwater runoff, and refining our understanding of where and when this phenomenon is occurring can help us narrow our focus and provide an important part to this puzzle.”

The PSSST-developed website includes interactive tools that allow users to view the Puget Sound basin and affected watersheds, and train them to identify coho salmon and report suspected coho mortality as citizen scientists. Although studies with other species are ongoing, initial evidence suggests that coho are particularly vulnerable to the syndrome.


Clearer picture of mortality

Coho returning to Puget Sound every autumn are an important food source for many animals, including endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

In a recently released draft report, the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force created by Washington Governor Inslee recognized the importance of stormwater as a source of pollution in Puget Sound, as well as the need to better understand the impacts of toxics on orcas and their salmon prey.

WSU researchers, led by Jen McIntyre, assistant professor at the WSU-run Washington Stormwater Center in Puyallup, have found that coho get sick and die within just a few hours of exposure to polluted stormwater.


“Urban runoff contains a soup of heavy metals and hydrocarbons that are highly toxic to fish,” said McIntyre. “Every coho that dies in our polluted urban watersheds before it gets a chance to spawn means less eggs, fewer fry, and fewer returning fish to feed hungry orcas.”

“With this new, interactive story map, citizens along the Puget Sound can help scientists confirm their latest predictions of where coho are in the most trouble,” said Nat Scholz, an ecotoxicologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “This will help us understand where green stormwater infrastructure and similar strategies to promote clean water and healthy habitats are most needed.”

While the new story map is aimed at coho, efforts to reduce toxic runoff to Puget Sound lakes, rivers, and marine waters will benefit other species as well.

Coho salmon are an important part of the culture, history, and economy of the Pacific Northwest. This iconic species is widely distributed in lowland watersheds that are vulnerable to ongoing and future development. The role of water pollution in the continued decline of coho populations remains poorly understood.

To learn more about how you can help, including identifying and reporting coho mortality, visit: https://arcg.is/0SivbL


Eastside Reps’ Wolf Bill OKed By US House Committee

A bill federally delisting gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon as well as elsewhere in the Lower 48 has been approved by a Congressional committee.


The Manage Our Wolves Act received a 19-15 vote before the House Natural Resources Committee during markup yesterday.

The legislation is cosponsored by two Eastern Washington Republicans, Dan Newhouse of the Yakima Valley and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of the Spokane area, and Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy.

“The best-available science used by the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that the gray wolf has recovered and is no longer endangered,” said Newhouse in a statement.

He’s previously introduced wolf bills as WDFW has been encouraging him to push the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete its delisting of the species.

In a midspring letter to the lawmaker, the state agency’s Acting Director Joe Stohr wrote that “(to) ensure ongoing success in wolf recovery, the federal listing needs to keep pace with the on-the ground (sic) recovery status and allow the state to fully implement its management plan.”

Most Washington wolves are in the state’s northeast corner, but at least three packs run west of the delisting line, Highways 97, 17 and 395.

The bifurcated status of wolves in the state means that “the only means available for the USFWS to address wolf-livestock conflicts in the geographic area under the federal endangered designation is for the USFWS to attempt to relocated livestock-killing wolves,” Stohr wrote.

In midsummer, the Teanaway Pack, which runs in the still federally listed portion of Central Washington, injured a calf and an adult sheep, killed an ewe and was probably responsible for a missing lamb.

Gray wolves were proposed for delisting by the Obama Administration in 2013, but progress stalled, and then came a Humane Society of the United States court case addressing Canis lupus in the western Great Lakes that blocked USFWS from moving ahead on its full proposal.

There was little movement on that front until in June USFWS said it was again assessing wolf populations and, “(if) appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year.”

It would then undergo public review.

Newhouse’s and McMorris Rodgers’ bill would preclude a delisting from judicial review. It needs to pass the full House and Senate and be signed into law.

Both representatives are up for reelection this fall, with Newhouse likely to retain his seat but McMorris Rodgers in a tighter race, if Fivethirtyeight’s forecast is any indication.

Northwest Duck Production Up, Annual USFWS Survey Reports

Northwest waterfowlers should see more mallards and other ducks for the youth hunting weekends next month and when the general season begins in October, but potentially fewer later in fall and winter as northern birds arrive.

Those are some of the bullet points from a federal survey released today.

It reports that Oregon numbers are up 23 percent over last year while Washington counts rose 16 percent.


While the bulk of our flocks fly in from British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon and Alaska, local production sustains early hunting before cold weather pushes northern birds south.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 294,000 ducks were counted this year in Oregon, up from 240,000 last year, while 281,000 were tallied in Washington, a rise of 39,000 from 2017.

Those are 12 and 59 percent above the long-term averages, respectively.

Mallard counts were also up in both states, from 72,000 to 93,000 in the former and 103,000 to 125,000 in the latter. Those figures are 7 and 51 percent above the average.

USFWS reported that while habitat conditions declined in Oregon compared to 2017, they were still considered “fair to good” because of 2016-17’s wet winter. A wet April helped keep ponds up in Washington, biologists reported.


Idaho: Area 1 (all counties except Valley, western half of Power and Southeast Idaho): Oct. 13-Jan. 25; Area 2: Oct. 6-Jan. 18

Oregon: Zone 1 (Western, Northcentral counties): Oct. 13-28, Oct. 31-Jan. 27; Zone 2 (Central, Eastern Counties): Oct. 6-Nov. 25, Nov. 28-Jan. 20; Statewide youth weekend: Sept. 22-23; Note: several state and federal refuges also offer youth hunting days; see the regs for dates, application deadlines

Washington: Oct. 13-31, Nov. 3-Jan. 27; Westside youth weekend: Sept. 22-23; Eastside youth weekend: Sept. 29-30

In the “prime” breeding grounds of southern and interior British Columbia, habitat conditions were “very good” to “good,” leading to a slight rise in mallard numbers.

Surveys further north, however, found fewer ducks. Numbers in Alaska and the Yukon declined 15 percent over 2017 and fell below the long-term average, while in northern BC, northern and central Alberta and the Northwest Territory, they dropped 13 percent.

Southern Alberta flocks fell 14 percent while those in Montana and North and South Dakota were essentially unchanged.

Ducks Unlimited reported that, overall, U.S. and Canadian duck numbers were down 13 percent over last year but were still 17 percent above the longterm average.

“The dip in the population for prairie-breeding puddle ducks is not unexpected and by no means unprecedented given that conditions on the prairies this spring were drier than last year,” said DU Chief Scientist Tom Moorman in a press release. “This year’s breeding population decline is a reminder of the need to sustain the capacity of breeding habitats, particularly in the prairies as we go through natural variation in wetland conditions. Waterfowl populations are adapted well to short-term swings in habitat conditions, but we must continue to guard against the long-term loss of prairie breeding habitat.”

Grand scheme, North American mallard, gadwall, green- and blue-winged teal, shoveler and redhead numbers are all declining year to year but still above average, widgeon and canvasback numbers are about average, while pintail and scaup are below average and declining, according to USFWS.


Seattle Chapter members of Ducks Unlimited are looking to build on their phenomenal support of waterfowl and their habitat with another blockbuster annual banquet early next month.

“We’ve raised more over the past decade than any other Ducks Unlimited chapter in the US,” says organizer and longtime waterfowler Greg James. “We are the first chapter to go over $300,000 net at a dinner, and then the first one to go over $400,000 net.”

In 2016, Seattle DU was honored with a place on the Chairman’s Roll of Honor chapters list, for those that raise $250,000 to $1 million.

Last year’s banquet raised $400,000 for wetlands conservation, James says, and as a DU newsletter states, the chapter’s efforts are showing “that the Emerald City can be known for something other than coffee, jets, and software.”

The 2018 edition is set for Oct. 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel. The evening features a five-star dinner, wines, entertainment and an auction.

For more, contact Karin Dow-Martinez at (206) 524-5300 or karin@kdmanagement.net.

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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.