A somewhat dull interagency teleconference on Washington wolves this morning turned jaw-dropping an hour and a half in when a National Park Service ecologist said they believe they have two or three packs in the North Cascades.
It particularly stunned the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s wolf managers.
“Stephanie had to revive me,” said Donny Martorello about the agency’s carnivore manager, Stephanie Simek, who was leading the call.
That’s because WDFW’s maps and its regular wolf updates don’t show or list any packs in that highly rumpled country south of the Canadian border, and the agency’s public reports site records very, very few observations over the years.
“We weren’t aware at all you had pack-level activity in the park,” said Martorello, who is the state’s wolf policy lead.
Now, whether the Park Service actually does or not is a good question.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the wolves that NPS wildlife ecologist Jason Ransom referred to were discrete packs that heretofore haven’t been identified, were wanderers from the two known packs in western Okanogan County, the confirmed solo animal in eastern Skagit County or others from southern British Columbia, or were some combination thereof.
Nor was it clear what the evidence was — observations, trail cam pictures, tracks, scat, howls, bumps in the night?
Or whether the park’s definition of a pack is the same as WDFW’s (two or more wolves traveling together in winter).
(A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman regularly queried since June has made no mention of anything.)
While recent years have seen wolves around Hozomeen, on upper Ross Lake just east of North Cascades park proper, activity there in the early 1990s and that NCNP still touts on its website was related to a more sordid episode.
Ransom didn’t return a phone call and email to Northwest Sportsman, but did tell the teleconference that data and DNA samples were being collected for analysis.
Under the math we’re locked in to get wolves delisted at the state level, breeding pairs would be relatively helpful in that region.
Needless to say, Martorello and Simek directed their lead wolf biologist Ben Maletzke to get in touch with Ransom asap.
All four were among the couple dozen or so federal, tribal and state staffers who took part in the call, which was the first get-together of the group in a year and a half.
Interested parties could also listen in on mute.
Most of the rest of the teleconference was fairly tame in comparison, and it allowed WDFW to bring its wildlife and land management partners up to speed on all things wolf in Washington.
This winter will see district biologists scouring the mountains south of I-90 for signs of Canis lupus, said Maletzke.
“There are a lot of reports to follow up on, especially after this hunting season,” he said.
(Hunters, keep ’em coming.)
There’s also a lot more work to be done on the big predator-prey studies that were launched last winter in the Methow Valley and Northeast Washington.
Biologists and others captured and collared cougars, wolves, deer, elk and moose in some of the state’s best hunting country to try and figure out the dynamics between the herds, packs and prides.
Analyzing the results is a ways out, but that particular subject weighed heavily on the mind of one caller
Near the end of the teleconference, Ray Entz of the Kalispel Tribe called for proactive management of wolves where they overlap endangered species, versus WDFW’s somewhat reactive one used with livestock depredations.
“We cannot afford to wait for a dead caribou. There are only 10 left. We’ve really got to up our game, people,” Entz said.
He said that without Canada going after wolves preying on the South Selkirk herd, “we don’t think we’d have any caribou left.”
Entz said that radio collar data shows that the herd’s last two “transgressions” into the U.S. were to Northeast Washington rather than habitat in Idaho and Northwest Montana, but the jaunts — not to mention the caribou — are becoming “fewer and farther between.”
He said that tribe has just completed constructing an 18-acre maternity pen in southern BC for use next spring to keep woodland caribou moms and calves safe from predators.
Earlier in the meeting, Martorello said that with Washington about halfway to meeting wolf population goals, it was time to start thinking about what’s next and developing a postdelisting plan. He will bring that topic to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission at the oversight panel’s December meeting.
While Anna Schmidt with the Bureau of Indian Affairs thought now might be time to update the state’s management plan — itself a five-year endeavor the first go-around — Travis Fletcher with the Colville National Forest, which is home to more wolves than any other federal woods in the state, noted that with recovery “going quite well” it was “better to look forward than back.”