The Daily Howler: The Travels Of WA-017M and OR7

A young Washington wolf is on its way to upsetting conventional wisdom about the mixing — err, lack thereof — of inland and coastal wolves in British Columbia.

The black-coated Smackout male known as WA-017M, which left its pack in the Evergreen State’s upper right-hand corner earlier this year, is reported as being 300 miles northwest of Oroville, Wash., at last check.

That’s a round figure and a rough description of its location based on the GPS collar that hangs around its neck, but it puts the animal roughly in the middle of the coastal mountains.

And dangerously close to fouling up the DNA of the “genetically distinct” salmon-eating, red-coated Canadian wolves thereabouts.


Those quoted words are lifted from one of two letters sent to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Dan Ashe, head of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, earlier this week and which may have led to a sudden delay in the Fed’s anticipated proposed delisting of gray wolves across most of the country.

Sixteen PhDs at institutions from UCLA to Duke to a research station across the pond in Seville believe that the wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon should not be lumped in with those in the delisted northern Rocky Mountains.

In a May 21 letter, they write:

Finally, we cannot support the conclusion that wolves in the Pacific Northwest do not qualify as distinct population segment due to lack of discreteness from other wolf populations. In 2007, the boundary between the northern Rocky Mountains population and the Pacific Northwest was established by the Service in order to recognize the recovery that has occurred, and delist Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) wolves. The 2007 rule correctly stated that the “DPS policy does not require complete separation of one DPS from other U.S. packs or populations..if occasional individual wolves or packs disperse among populations, the NRM DPS could still display the required discreteness.” It defies logic for the Service to now argue that “dispersal of wolves across the NRM DPS boundary is likely to continue” and that such occasional dispersal prevents recognition of a DPS that would protect wolves that are beginning to establish in the Pacific Northwest. Additionally, genetic testing of gray wolves that have migrated naturally into the Pacific Northwest has established that some derive from British Columbia coastal wolf populations which are genetically distinct from the inland stock of wolves used as a source for reintroduction to the northern Rocky Mountains.

The key word is “some.”

From the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s December 2011 wolf management plan, we know, based on results from the lab of a UCLA geneticist who is one of the signatories of the above letter, that:

Preliminary genetic testing of the breeding male and female suggested they were descended from wolves occurring in (1) coastal British Columbia and (2) northeastern British Columbia, northwestern Alberta, or the reintroduced populations in central Idaho and the greater Yellowstone area.

(Editor’s note: We emailed Dr. Pollinger a week or so ago for the final genetic results, but have yet to hear back from him.)

And that:

Genetic analysis revealed that the Teanaway female was likely a recent descendant of the Lookout male and female wolves originally radio-collared in 2008.

But we have yet to learn about the genetic makeup of the yet-to-be-captured neighbors to the Teanaways the Wenatchee Pack (at least one of which is related), the Skagit County carcass, and the Teanaway alpha male, which was recently caught.

And for that matter, are we assuming that the wolves the Whites stuffed in the box and trapped were blood kin of the Lookouts and not walk-on members of the pack?

“Some” doesn’t sound very genetically distinct.

I’m no geneticist, of course, but it seems doubtful to me that the wolves that move down the Cascades are going to be pure-bred animals that require more than wise continued state protections until recovery goals are met and careful hunting management afterwards.

Think of the mountain range as you see it from space — a cone into which wolves related to inland BC, Northeast Washington, Northeast Oregon, perhaps Idaho and Montana with a smattering of coastal BC stock are funneling.

(And if Washington were to go the translocation route to speed up recovery, the wolves would likely come from Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties, animals more likely to be inland stock.)

The problem is this: Say USFWS bows to the PhDs and creates a distinct population segment for wolves in the Cascades of both states, would recovery goals for the DPS be linked too?

That is, would Washington have to wait while Oregon packs multiply before federal recovery in the western two-thirds of both states could be declared?

Wolves are likely to occupy the mountainous, wooded, elky habitat north of the Columbia much faster than south of it — assuming, of course, that OR7 doesn’t stumble into a colony of vixens.

OR7, of course, is the much more famously footloose Northwest wolf, the one that strode diagonally across Oregon from Wallowa County, hung out in California for a long while, then turned back north into the Beaver State.

Advocates celebrate the fountain of wolf science that’s come out of reintroduction to Yellowstone, but ignore what else we’ve learned: Washington and Oregon wolves from the Northern Rockies DPS are capable of traveling far beyond its boundaries, and will continue to do so. The Cascades will be occupied by wolves of different stocks. It won’t be a discrete unit. It will reflect the diversity of those of us who live here — and who must get along with each other on the issue instead of becoming yet another battleground for national groups over a certain canid.

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