Category Archives: Wolf News

Wolves Feature Prominently In Latest WDFW Wildlife Report

There’s a fair amount of wolf information in the latest weekly Wildlife Program update posted by WDFW.

The 33-page PDF includes photos of at least four and possibly five different wolves in three different areas of the state — two in known pack territories and the third in long-suspected wolf country — as well as reports and tracks from other locations.

Also inside, updates on elk and deer collaring projects around Mt. St. Helens and the Olympia area, lynx and wolverine trapping results, work being done on lands around the state, and more.

According to a spokesman, posting the weekly reports is one way that the agency can easily and cheaply get the word out to the public about what it does. The wolf reports also show that it’s placing more emphasis on the species and being more transparent about it.

Here’s the wolf news:

‘Wolf Position Statement’ In The Works At WA FWC

Three months after they approved the statewide wolf management plan, the Fish & Wildlife Commission is preparing another major document on Canis lupus in Washington, albeit a far shorter and more succinct one.

Early next month the nine-member citizen panel will publicly discuss a draft of their “wolf position statement.”

In its current state, it’s a seven-page distillation of the Department of Fish & Wildlife’s 300-page-long recovery and conservation plan, outline of commissioners’ thoughts on it, pointed reminder to WDFW about who is watching over its shoulder, and message to those who may be affected by wolves the most.

“We hear the concerns. We view them as legitimate. We will prod the agency to place a very high priority on them,” said a resolute-sounding chairwoman Miranda Wecker in a telephone interview last week.

It’s rare for the commission to go to such a length, but as the Naselle resident who’s served on the panel since January 2007 points out, it’s also a pretty unique situation and species.

Wecker describes a feeling that grew amongst members in recent months that it would be good to speak in plain English about their views on wolves and wolf management, so they began to draw up the statement.

It’s not meant to conflict with anything in the plan, she says, or upset the road to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service handing over day-to-day statewide wolf management to WDFW.

Rather, it talks about long-term goals, impacts to livestock and big game, and building and keeping social tolerances for wolves in order.

It places a “very high priority” on maintaining hunter opportunities.

“If we destroy hunting in this state, we’re in a world of hurt — we have no other model to fall back on, no way to raise money to support game management,” Wecker says.

Even as WDFW reassigns staffers who worked on the wolf plan to other species, the commission’s statement directs the agency to start planning now for the day after the recovery goal — delisting from state ESA protections across Washington — is met.

Wecker says she’s already seeing some good signs that WDFW isn’t sitting on its hands on wolves.

Earlier this month the agency advertised five new full-time jobs — two trappers and three technicians — tasked exclusively to wolves. She called that “a big deal in these times of shrinking budgets.”

She also points to new drives to improve reporting and counting utilizing the eyes and ears of hunters in the region. To aid in that, WDFW is testing a beta version of an online reporting page similar to one on Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Web site, she says.

Agency-request legislation, House Bill 2365, is working its way through Olympia. It would classify wolves as big game and give ranchers more tools to deal with wolves attacking livestock. The Senate’s proposed supplementary budget funds wolf work to the tune of $355,000 through fiscal year 2013.

And an uptick in wolf reports posted to WDFW’s  Dangerous & Problem Wildlife page also indicates that it’s no longer business as it has been. The page is now compiling fairly pedestrian incidents — howling and tracks, moose kills, and wolf sightings — along with possible human interactions. One recent report shows that, even when it seems doubtful that wolves are responsible, field staffers are putting more effort into investigating incidents such as with an attack on a woman in eastern Okanogan County one evening earlier this month.

“We’re 99 percent sure (it was a feral dog), but we’re still doing our jobs,” says WDFW Sgt. Jim Brown.

Just in case, trail cams were being set up over bait stations in the area, which has seen feral dog attacks on livestock in the past though there are also wolves on the Colville Reservation 15 to 20 miles to the east, Brown says. And if need be, he has the sweater the woman wore that night if Headquarters decides to run it for DNA.

Wecker says the commission will probably vote on the position statement at its April meeting in Olympia.

Unasked but sensing my question, she says that one of the newest and certainly the most controversial member “supported it enthusiastically.”

That would be Jay Kehne, the Omak resident whose part-time employment with the wolf, wildlife and wildlands advocacy group Conservation Northwest has raised hackles amongst some hunters and Eastern Washington legislators.

“I definitely support it,” Kehne said yesterday. “In my mind, people are going to have to realize that wolves will be wolves and some will have to be managed.”

Managed, of course, is a euphemism for killing those that repeatedly attack livestock, are found to be detrimental to big game herds, as with the aerial shooting of 14 in North Idaho last week, or are threats to humans. It can also mean working with stockmen to prevent attacks in the first place.

“Some wolf enthusiasts want wolves to live out their natural lives,” says Wecker. “That’s not the position of the department. Let me be crystal clear: Wolves will become a game species. They will be managed, and not for maximum population.”

Strong words that buoy this hunter’s hopes that, at the same time a place will be found for the species in Washington, they will not be allowed to run the game as they were in Idaho and Montana because of years of lawsuits.

Now, to see the statement approved and acted upon.

WDFW Hiring 5 On Wolf Front As Agency Ramps Up Work On Species

Like to work outdoors in all kinds of weather and drive around in the mountains and woods a lot, have a degree in biology, are able to walk stooped over while carrying 40 pounds, and can talk to the public about the recovery of a certain species that may not be popular in the areas you’ll find yourself at all hours?

You, sir or madam, might find employ as one of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s newest hires. The agency is looking to bring a pair of wolf trappers on board this year.

They’re also hiring three techs to assist the trappers and work on other wolf issues.

It’s another sign that now that work on the state’s ginormous management and recovery plan is done, WDFW is getting more serious about tracking and mitigating for the state’s growing wolf population.

The current minimum estimate is 27 with additional animals likely in the Blue Mountains and Ross Lake area. Some hunters suspect five times that number, and one conservation group pegs the tally as high as 50.

According to WDFW’s job announcement, posted here, one trapper will work in the North Cascades, where the state’s first confirmed pack in 70 years showed up in summer 2008, the other in far Eastern Washington and the state’s northeastern and southeastern corners.

The nut of that job is to confirm wolf activity, trap adults and pups, sling telemetry collars around the grown models, send tracking data to HQ, deal with depredation or other conflicts, speak publicly, and write up a big report.

The gig pays from $3,200 to $4,100 a month, and lasts at least through June 2013, and possibly beyond that, depending on funding.

The tech positions pay $2,400 to $3,000 a month. They will set up trail cams, follow up on wolf sightings, and assist with livestock depredation issues. One would be posted to each of the state’s three recovery regions. The jobs are listed as nonpermanent in this announcement.

It’s unclear if the two trapping positions are in addition to Paul Frame, WDFW’s sole trapper. He captured at least four wolves last year.

Some sportsmen have been tough on him and the agency for not following up on and confirming more wolf reports around Washington.

Nate Pamplin, WDFW’s assistant wildlife program director, acknowledged skepticism about the department’s ability to track wolves and respond to livestock depredations.

“We’re trying to address that,” he says of the new hiring effort.

He also confirms another big change on the wolf front: a shift in who’s in charge of the state’s packs.

Pamplin says that the agency has shifted primary responsibility for implementation of the wolf plan from the Wildlife Program’s diversity section to the Game Division’s carnivore section, headed up by Donny Martorello, who already manages other top-end predators such as cougars and bears.

He says that dealing with wolves takes up quite a bit of time. Moving them into Martorello’s bailiwick frees up the diversity program’s Rocky Beach and Harriett Allen to deal with the state’s other threatened and endangered species.

While the shift drew a cry of alarm from Conservation Northwest, deeply involved in wolf recovery in Washington, Pamplin hopes that folks on both sides of the issue can see that the agency is making the species a top priority.

“Public expectations are high. We need to be responsive,” he says.

To pay for it all, Governor Gregoire’s supplemental budget contains $355,000 for wolf work (WDFW originally requested $150,000, then argued convincingly to increase it), and Pamplin told a state House agriculture committee he sent the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service a request for an additional $250,000.

At the end of this month, USFWS is also expected to announce its proposed listing status for wolves in the western two-thirds of the state. Currently, they’re listed as threatened there and recovered in the eastern third.

To apply for the trapper or tech positions, write a cover letter, polish up your resume, figure out three professional references and send the info to WDFW by midnight Feb. 14.

Legislators Wrestle With The Gray, And Other Oly News

Washington sportsmen wouldn’t be on the hook for paying ranchers if their cows, sheep and other stock are killed by gray wolves.

An amendment Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) tacked onto Substitute House Bill 2365 dropped the cap on a wolf depredation compensation fund from $200,000 — and funded in large part through hunting and fishing license sales — to $50,000.

“That’s good, we were supportive of that,” says WDFW legislative liason Ann Larson.

As it stands, the $50,000 is part of Governor Gregoire’s proposed budget and would come from the sales of certain license plates which fund the management of endangered and threatened species.

The bill, requested by WDFW, originally capped the payout at that figure too, but it was unexpectedly raised by two committee members, apparently without much foresight about the funding source or the reaction of hunters.

Yesterday during a hearing before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, WDFW wildlife program manager Dave Ware expressed his agency’s concerns with that, and two others also spoke against it.

Tom Davis of the Washington Farm Bureau said he appreciated that legislators appeared to understand the potential future costs of wolf damage, but wasn’t in favor of using hunter dollars.  He said it would send “the wrong message, and maybe sets a dangerous precedent.”

Jack Field of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association said it was “not a fair and equitable distribution” and that the cost of wolf recovery, largely approved of by Washington residents, “should be born by the entire public.” He said depredation payments should come from the General Fund.

As it is, Larson says “a lot of give and take” went into the original House bill and its Senate companion, SB 6139, which was passed to the Rule Committee for a second reading today.

Both add gray wolves to the list of the state’s big game species — no, that doesn’t mean they will be hunted anytime soon, they still have to meet those population benchmarks — but the criminal penalty for poaching one is fairly light in the House’s.

The version passed out of the Committee on General Government Appropriations & Oversight on Friday pegs the fine at $1,000, half as much as for our far more populous deer and elk. It’s a $12,000 fine currently to illegally kill equally rare grizzly bears and mountain caribou, and a $4,000 fine for the unlawful taking of a moose, bighorn or mountain goat out of season.

That has the fire alarms going with groups like Conservation Northwest, the leader of which vowed to work to kill the bill if it went forward.

It would have gone five-alarm if another amendment to allow the Fish & Wildlife Commission to regionally delist wolves had been approved, but folding HB 2214, the apex predator bill, into it failed, Larson says.

As for what else fishing-or-hunting-related is going on, SB 6268, the bill that would require up to half of trout stocked in Washington to come from non-WDFW hatcheries, missed a policy cutoff deadline, and though it could still be revived, is on the stringer cooling in the lake.

And the Senate version of the NRA license plate bill is still shaking, Larson says.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this mistakenly spoke to a $4,000 criminal penalty for poaching a wolf in SB 6139.

Hunter Details Another Wolf Encounter, In Kittitas Co.

An article on the Yakima Farm Bureau’s opposition to Washington’s wolf management plan also contains another account of a hunter-wolf interaction, this one in the Teanaway Valley of Kittitas County.

Reporter Scott Sandsberry of the Yakima Herald-Republic details how Don Wood and his son were approached in late November during an antlerless elk hunt first by one wolf, then four:

… a wolf approached within 20 yards and watched them for quite a while.

“It came up to a bush that the leaves had fallen off of, so it was just kind of sticks and we could see it,” Wood said. “It was staring directly at us for probably a good three or four minutes.”

Wood said he was fascinated but, with his rifle in his arm, was not afraid, “just cautious. My son was standing right beside me; I told him, ‘Look, it’s a wolf.’ He was like, ‘Whoa.’ We didn’t really say much because wanted to be quiet.”

Eventually the wolf trotted off, and Wood’s son, Kenny, walked over to look at its tracks. After a couple of minutes, though, four other wolves — one of which wearing what appeared to be one of the state’s radio-collar units — approached from the same direction.

“I was telling (Kenny) to stop, and I went over to him because he didn’t realize what was going on. At that point, I was a little more concerned,” Wood said.

Still, though, he was more curious than nervous, and instead of raising his rifle, he raised his smart phone to take some photographs of the wolves until they ambled off.

“I had the phone in one hand and the rifle in the other,” Wood said. “(The wolves) stayed spread apart. I think they were coming down looking for breakfast and trying to determine if we were breakfast or not. At the time, I was alert and just trying to assess the whole situation, wasn’t really concerned. A couple of days later, at home in my bed, I was got to thinking, ‘Hey, that really could have gone the other way.’”

A wolf encounter that does go the other way is the subject of a new Hollywood film, The Grey, but the Woods’ experience follows a more peaceful though unnerving one a huntress had on Sawtooth Ridge back in September and detailed by the Methow Valley News.

For more recent wolf reports in Washington, home to a minimum of 27 wolves at the end of last year, go here.

WDFW Posts Final-Final Wolf Plan

After getting final sign-off from the Fish & Wildlife Commission early last month, WDFW’s completed wolf management plan has now been posted to the Web.

Download a copy of the 301-page document here for your reading enjoyment.

It’s taken over four years to come up with the plan. The agency held dozens of meetings with its Wolf Working Group and the public, was deluged with 65,000 comments, and still there is not unanimous agreement on it.

Several bills were introduced in the Legislature, including one discussed in a recent Capital Press article. Another, 2214, would require tweaks to the management plan if wolves are delisted federally across the state. And our January 2012 issue outlines hunter concerns in Northeast Washington, home to the state’s most moose and a viable elk herd.

(WDFW)

Controversy aside, the plan’s goal is fourfold, according to its executive summary:

• Restore the wolf population in Washington to a self-sustaining size and geographic distribution that will result in wolves having a high probability of persisting in the state through the foreseeable future (>50-100 years).

• Manage wolf-livestock conflicts in a way that minimizes livestock losses, while at the same time not negatively impacting the recovery or long-term perpetuation of a sustainable wolf population.

• Maintain healthy and robust ungulate populations in the state that provide abundant prey for wolves and other predators as well as ample harvest opportunities for hunters.

• Develop public understanding of the conservation and management needs of wolves in Washington, thereby promoting the public’s coexistence with the species.

It lays out population benchmarks for recovery and outlines potential protections afforded livestock and game herds at varying state listing statuses, and how much ranchers will be paid for losses, but also acknowledges that funding for that, monitoring, etc., must be identified. The plan says that implementing its “high priority” tasks will cost into the low $400,000s a year by 2016, 176 percent more than was spent in 2011 for the same things.

Indeed, counting wolves will be very important in the years ahead. As of the end of 2011, WDFW says there are a minimum of 27 wolves in five packs in Washington. That’s eight and two more, respectively, than the previous year and 15 and three more than at the end of 2009.

It’s highly likely that more are here — it’s suspected there are packs in the North Cascades and Blue Mountains, and wolves like Oregon’s now California’s OR7 are probably wandering the state.

How many wolves will Washington eventually have? Damn good question, but predictions for meeting the plan’s minimum statewide delisting goal runs anywhere from 97 to 361 individuals.

Stay tuned, and keep the wolf reports coming. WDFW’s hotline is 1 (877) 933-9847.

Colvilles Say There Are 3 To 9 Wolves On Reservation

A Wenatchee World article yesterday reveals that there may be three and perhaps as many as nine more wolves in Washington than previously known.

Those figures come from the Colville Reservation, which WDFW did not survey when it did its statewide end-of-2011 count which said there were a minimum of 27 in five packs.

The estimate is based on lone tracks; it’s unclear if there’s any pack on the reservation.

The Colville Tribes, a sovereign nation whose lands fall outside state control and WDFW’s wolf management and recovery plan, also made much more clear their position on wolves.

“We’re going to be managing them. And when I say manage, I mean we’re going to be removing some,” Joe Peone, Fish and Wildlife director, told reporter KC Mahaffey.

Mahaffey also reported: “But just how many wolves tribal members want on the reservation, and how they’ll want them removed when the wolf population exceeds that number, is yet to be determined.”

Randy Friedlander, a wildlife biologist there, says that the wolves there will be studied — the Colvilles hope to get trapping help from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service this spring — tribal members have been surveyed about their opinions on the species, and a management plan will be created, according to the article.

The tribes will also meet with WDFW on wolves in the “North Half,” the public and private land formerly part of the reservation in the Republic area, Mahaffey writes.

Previously we’ve reported on wolves and the Colvilles here, here and here.

Wolf War Update, No. 16,789

Swore off blogging about an hour ago — the February issue, that thing that pays the bills around here and keeps the Internet plugged in, is in the beginning stages of a real mess — but two developments on, yes, the wolf front need blogification.

The first is a link posted on Huntfishnw.com to a story about Idaho’s wolf hunt. With the kill just under 200 and nearly 20 animals higher than in 2009’s season, what does that mean about how many wolves are really in the Gem State?

As with everything wolfish, there is disagreement.

KPLU reporter Jessica Robinson:

No one knows why exactly the numbers are up. Wolf trapping is allowed for the first time in Idaho — but that alone doesn’t explain for the increase, says Jim Hayden. He’s the Fish and Game regional manager for the Idaho panhandle.

“They’re a difficult animal to hunt. People are learning a little bit more about it,” Hayden explains. “We have some minor networks that formed so people start talking to each other -– ‘Oh yeah, I bumped into something up in so-and-so drainage.’ ‘Oh I didn’t know there was anything there, I’ll look there.’ So we have more communication there, a little more experience.”

Though Hayden thinks the biggest reason for hunters’ success is -– more wolves. He says at least half the wolves hunters have brought in came from areas Fish and Game didn’t know had wolf packs.

But some environmentalists think the population is much smaller. According to federal counts, gray wolf numbers dropped between 2009 and 2010 in Idaho.

The italics are mine.

On the Washington side of the line, Okanogan County Republicans and commissioners are trying to get Jay Kehne of Omak booted off the Fish & Wildlife Commission, to which he was appointed last month, for his views on wolves.

“On Tuesday, all three commissioners signed a letter to the governor and state senators seeking his removal,” reports KC Mahaffey of the Wenatchee World.

“Jay’s views are redundant with the people (Gregoire) would pick from Seattle,” state Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, told Zachary Van Brunt of the Omak Chronicle. “It really bothers me that her go-to people for advice for Eastern Washington representation is a Western Washington environmentalist group that has done tremendous damage to Eastern Washington.”

Kehne, a hunter who has reported taking five deer and two elk since 2002, as well as retired local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service staffer and field rep for Conservation Northwest advocated for Canis lupus around the state in 2011.

CNW put out a press release today defending Kehne as well as its own actions in Eastern Washington:

The Governor appointed Jay to the Commission to represent himself. Commissioners are not appointed to represent any particular interest or part of the state; their job is to serve the resource and the public at large. Furthermore, Jay’s commission service is not part of his employment at Conservation Northwest.

… Lastly, the civil, collaborative approach to issues the Jay brings to the commission is also reflective of his work at Conservation Northwest, and of Conservation Northwest’s work overall. Recently Conservation Northwest has been instrumental in assisting ranchers in Okanogan, Ferry and Stevens counties to obtain fair market value for committing their properties to agriculture and open space, preventing conversion of farms to development. We have also been collaborating with timber interests to execute more that two dozen quality forestry and restoration projects on national forest land in eastern Washington.

OK, back to Feb.

For five minutes.

A Short History Of Washington’s Five Known Wolf Packs

There are some interesting details in WDFW’s newly posted timelines on the state’s five known wolf packs — what they’re chewing on, their official names, how many are collared, who paid the vet bill for the sheep-herding dog bitten by a Teanaway wolf last summer, etc.

For what it’s worth, here is The Official Record As It Stands:

Washington Wolf Packs: Diamond

2009

Citizen reports, howling surveys, and remote cameras confirmed the presence of a breeding pack of wolves, named the Diamond Pack, in Pend Oreille County in 2009.  Wolves had previously been photographed by remote cameras in the county in 2008 and again in May 2009.  The breeding male (WA-398M) was captured and fitted with a GPS radio-collar in July 2009. Two small pups were also captured, ear tagged, and released that year.  In 2009, the breeding pair produced six pups and at least four of those survived to 2010.

DNA analysis of the breeding male links him to the naturally recolonizing southern Alberta-northwestern Montana wolf population.  The Diamond Pack dens in Washington and therefore is counted as a Washington pack. Monitoring of radio-collared animals in the Diamond Pack show that the pack uses a territory of about 350 square miles and that 25% of the territory is in Idaho. The home range area of the pack contains a multi-species prey base (moose, elk, and two species of deer).

2010

The battery expired on WA-398M’s collar in July 2010, but a yearling female (WA-376F) was captured and GPS radio-collared that June.  Three other yearling wolves (WA-378M, WA-380F, WA-382F) were captured and ear-tagged, but were not collared and one small pup was caught and released.  The pack produced six pups in 2010 and numbered 12 wolves at the end of the year.  During late summer/fall 2010, WDFW conducted ground searches of GPS cluster locations obtained from the telemetry data; the primary prey item documented was moose.

2011

In June of 2011, WA-376F (2 years old now) was recaptured and her GPS radio-collar was changed.  Unfortunately, the GPS portion of her new collar failed and no longer transmits remote location updates; however, the regular VHF beacon on the collar continues to function and on a location flight during November 2011, WA-376F was located with a radio-collared yearling male member of the Cutoff Peak Pack from north Idaho in that pack’s territory.  Neither of those two wolves was heard on location flights in December; however efforts to locate them are ongoing.

Although the collar on WA-398M no longer functions, remote camera images from July 2011 indicate that he is still alive and with the pack.

DIAMOND PACK, LATE DECEMBER 2011. (WDFW)

WA-382F (2 year old) was recaptured in June of 2011 and was also fitted with a GPS radio-collar.  Unfortunately, she was legally killed by an Idaho trapper 300 yards from the Washington border in December.  While there are currently no functioning GPS radio-collars in the Diamond Pack, there is one regular tracking collar remaining in the pack on adult female WA-013F, who was also captured in June 2011.  There were three pups confirmed during September surveys and a total of 10 wolves were counted in this pack at the end of 2011.

Washington Wolf Packs: Lookout

2008

Multiple wolf reports from Okanogan County in 2008 led to confirmation of the first fully documented breeding by a wolf pack in Washington since the 1930s.  The wolves became known as the Lookout Pack and consisted of at least four adults/yearlings and six pups in 2008.  The breeding male (WA-144M) and female (WA-142F) were captured and radio-collared in July 2008 and other pack members, including the 6 pups, were caught on remote cameras in the summer of 2008.  Genetic analysis of these wolves indicated they were descended from wolves occurring in (1) coastal British Columbia and possibly (2) northeastern British Columbia, northwestern Alberta, or the reintroduced populations in central Idaho and the greater Yellowstone area.  Based on telemetry monitoring between 2008 and 2010, the Lookout Pack used an area of about 350 square miles as their territory, with the primary prey being deer.  Breeding pair status (survival of at least two of the pups) could not be confirmed for 2008.

2009

It appears the pack suffered significant human-caused mortality from illegal killing. The alleged killing in 2008-2009 of up to five wolves believed to be members of the Lookout pack, was included in a federal grand jury indictment in June, 2011. By April of 2009 the pack had been reduced to the breeding pair and one surviving yearling.  Despite the mortality, the pack produced a litter of at least 4 pups in 2009 and all 7 animals survived into the spring of 2010, confirming breeding pair status for 2009.

2010

In May 2010, WA-142F disappeared less than three weeks after the suspected birth of a litter.  She was pregnant in April and was last seen at a den site on May 12th.  Extensive searches for her were conducted and she is presumed dead.  This appeared to cause a breakdown in pack structure, with WA-144M ranging more widely and spending most of the summer alone; his radio collar stopped functioning in November, 2010.  This pack was not considered a breeding pair at the end of 2010.  However,  documentation of multiple wolves (including WA-144M) traveling together in the winter of 2010-2011 indicated there were still at least two wolves inhabiting the Lookout Pack’s territory at that time.

TRAIL CAM IMAGE OF A WOLF ON SAWTOOTH RIDGE, BETWEEN LAKE CHELAN AND THE METHOW VALLEY, FALL 2011. (USFWS)

2011

WA-144M was last seen in June 2011; however, recent activity in the Lookout territory indicates there are still at least two wolves in the pack.  In September, 2011 a hunter documented at least two and possibly three animals in the far western portion of the traditional Lookout territory.  Agency follow-up yielded several remote camera photos of at least one and possibly two wolves in the same area, one of which may be a female.  Credible public reports of at least two animals on traditional Lookout Pack winter range have continued through the end of the year, but at no time in 2011 did the agency receive credible reports of pups or verify any breeding activity.

Washington Wolf Packs: Salmo

2010

The Salmo Pack was first documented in August 2010 when a pup of the year (WA-001M) was captured and radio-collared about 2 miles south of the Canadian border in eastern Pend Oreille County.  Because of the size of the pup, he was fitted with a standard VHF tracking collar.  Based on information gathered during continued capture efforts it was determined the pack consisted of two adults and a single pup.  End of the year surveys confirmed this, so because the pack did not produce 2 pups that survived until December 31, it was not counted as a successful breeding pair for 2010.

SALMO PACK WOLF, 2010. (WDFW)

2011

In spring of 2011 WDFW confirmed that the Salmo Pack denned in Washington; it is therefore considered a Washington pack towards recovery goals.   No reproduction was confirmed during summer surveys and no pups were counted at the end of 2011.  About one third of this pack’s home-range is in British Columbia and the rest is in Washington.

Washington Wolf Packs: Smackout

In June of 2011, a cattle operator west of Ione in Stevens County of northeastern Washington, reported seeing wolf pups and hearing howling while working on his Forest Service grazing allotment.  This pack was confirmed when a young female pup was captured and ear-tagged (WA-014F); she was too small to safely wear a radio-collar.  During continued capture efforts two adults and three pups were confirmed.  Tracks of all five wolves were observed during year end surveys confirming the pack as a successful breeding pair for 2011.  There were public reports of wolves in this area during summer 2010 and WDFW surveys found a wolf track at that time, but no breeding activity was reported or documented.

SMACKOUT PASS MEMBER, THE FIRST KNOWN BLACK-PHASE WOLVES IN WASHINGTON IN MODERN TIME, ACCORDING TO WDFW, ALTHOUGH THE AGENCY'S DRAFT MANAGEMENT PLAN LISTED TWO REPORTS OF A BLACK WOLF IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS IN 2008. (WDFW)

Genetic analysis on WA-014F has yet to be done, but based on the pack’s  location and physical features, they likely originate from the southern Alberta – northwest Montana population.  Based on remote camera images, at least one of the adults is gray, but WA-014F and the two other pups are black in color.  These are the first black wolves documented in the modern Washington wolf population.

Washington Wolf Packs: Teanaway

2010

In response to remote camera images of a large wolf-like canid collected by citizen science volunteers in 2010, a survey effort that included WDFW, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Conservation Northwest, and the Western Transportation Institute, was conducted in the Teanaway Valley in the North Cascades.  This effort produced multiple remote camera images of at least three large canids.

2011

As a follow-up to the remote camera photos and surveys, WDFW captured a lactating adult female in the pack in June 2011 and fitted her with a GPS/VHF radio-collar.  Genetic analysis confirmed this animal to be 100% wolf and that she was a descendant of the Lookout Pack.  In September 2011, a yearling female was also captured and fitted with a GPS/VHF radio-collar.  The presence of a yearling wolf indicates this pack has been in the area since at least spring of 2010.  At the end of 2011 there were three adults and four pups in this pack, and it was considered a successful breeding pair.

RADIO-COLLARED TEANAWAY WOLF. (WDFW)

In August 2011, a sheep was killed on a Forest Service allotment within the home-range of the pack.  While several wolves, including one with a radio-collar, were seen near the sheep carcass by the herder, a thorough investigation indicated a cougar had killed the animal and the wolves were scavenging on it.  At the time, there was an altercation between the wolves and a herding dog that was disrupted when the herder fired a gun into the ground.  The dog survived and recovered; WDFW paid the veterinarian bill, using funds from a USFWS grant and matching funds from Defenders of Wildlife designated for proactive non-lethal preventative measures and compensation for livestock documented to be killed or injured by wolves.  Guarding and herding dogs are considered livestock under WDFW’s wolf conservation and management plan.  In response to the event, the UFWS, USFS, and WDFW worked with the herder to secure the sheep with fladry at night and no further problems were reported.

WOLF PACKS AS OF THE END OF 2011. (WDFW)

 

At Least 27 Wolves In Washington, WDFW Says

The numbers don’t match what hunters are tallying online, but for what it’s worth, WDFW estimates that there were at least 27 individual wolves and three breeding pairs in Washington as of Dec. 31, 2011.

That’s eight more wolves and two more successful pairs than at the end of 2010.

The agency released news about its annual count after aerial flights and field monitoring last month.

AN AERIAL SHOT TAKEN AROUND CHRISTMAS SHOWS AT LEAST EIGHT MEMBERS OF THE DIAMOND PACK OF CENTRAL PEND OREILLE COUNTY, WASH. (WDFW)

Overall there are at least five packs in the state, including two new ones confirmed early last summer. WDFW tallied their populations thusly:

Diamond Pack, in Pend Oreille County and Idaho, numbers 10 wolves, including a breeding pair with at least two pups. A 2-year-old, radio-collared, female wolf was legally trapped and killed in Idaho in December before the count was made. Another radio-collared female from the pack was last located in November in Idaho and is currently missing; a third radio-collared female remains with the pack.

Smackout Pack, in Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, numbers five wolves, including a successful breeding pair with three pups. None have radio collars.

Salmo Pack, in Pend Oreille County and British Columbia, includes three wolves. One wolf with a VHF radio collar is still being monitored.

Teanaway Pack, in Kittitas County, numbers seven wolves, including a successful breeding pair with at least two pups. The breeding female is equipped with a GPS radio collar and still is being monitored.

Lookout Pack, in Okanogan County includes two wolves with no pups; neither has a functioning radio collar.

The actual number of wolves in the state is higher still as WDFW acknowledges there is evidence of packs in the Blue Mountains and the Hozomeen area of upper Ross Lake as well as “transient” wolves wandering the landscape. Northwest Sportsman learned recently of one hanging out just east of Palmer Lake.

A pack is two or more wolves traveling together while a breeding pair is an adult male and adult female and two pups that survive to year end. Breeding pairs are the standard measure used to determine recovery.

To delist the species from state protections under WDFW’s recently approved management and recovery plan, there must be at least 15 successful breeding pairs documented for three consecutive years among three wolf-recovery regions (four pairs in Eastern Washington, four pairs in North Cascades, four pairs in South Cascades/Northwest Coast, and three pairs in any recovery region), or 18 pairs in any single year.

“The countdown is on,” said agency spokeswoman Madonna Luers in Spokane early this afternoon. “We’ve got a number to shoot for and we’re counting them.”

Diamond and Smackout are in the Eastern Washington region while Teanaway is in the North Cascades region (see below for a map of the regions).

WDFW’s numbers for the five packs aren’t that much different than those posted on outfitter Dale Denney’s Hunting-Washington — a tally there puts it at 28. But based on hunter reports, the site puts the statewide figure over 100.

Some of those come from the Southern Cascades region, where just this past fall howling was heard at Conrad Meadows and tracks were seen east of Rimrock Lake. WDFW wildlife biologist Jeff Bernatowicz has heard of other reports in his district the past few years — he says 2011’s reports were actually down from previous years — but he has yet to see any wolves in western Yakima County nor spotted any on the winter range chasing crippled game or late-born elk.

“‘Three-legged elk,’ spotted calves — when I don’t see any anymore, that’s going to be an indication” some wolves are around, he said last week.

About the 27, the agency’s wildlife diversity program manager Rocky Beach says, “This is what we can confirm. Are there likely more? The answer is ‘Yes.'”

But he says there’s probably not a lot more. He explains that, based on what’s been seen in other Northwestern states, there’s less “noise” in a relatively small population of wolves.

Still, it is imperative that hunters continue to report sightings, tracks, howls, etc., to WDFW to create those “clusters” of sightings that lead the agency to send out their trapper. To report possible wolves, call (877) 933-9847.

It is also imperative that WDFW secure more funding for wolf work — there’s $305,000 in Governor Gregoire’s proposed supplemental budget for monitoring and livestock work, a figure that was upped from the $150,000 initially asked for by Director Phil Anderson after the department made a “strong argument” in October it would go towards hiring a staffer to work with livestock interests — and pay more attention to game herds in Northeast Washington.

This is at least the third straight year that Washington’s wolf population has grown.

At the end of 2009, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated there were at least 12 animals.

At the end of 2010, the Feds pegged it at at least 19.

While the Lookout Pack had pups in 2008 and 2009, in 2010 only the Diamond Pack had more than two survive to the end of the year.

With the exit of OR7 for California late last week, Oregon’s statewide population stands at a minimum of two dozen with four packs. Although all four reproduced in 2011, only one, Walla Walla, produced more than one pup and it is considered the state’s only breeding pair at the moment. However, spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy says that the numbers could change.

“There could very well be more, but based on hard evidence, we have 24,” she says.

Download ODFW’s 2011 annual report here.

Over in Idaho, just under 200 have been legally killed and trapped in that state’s seasons.

WDFW has also updated its wolf page to show more information about each pack. Timelines for each as well as some new photos have been added, including several aerial shots of Diamond at rest, and a tunnel in the Lookout Pack’s den near Twisp.

LOOKOUT PACK DEN TUNNEL IN OKANOGAN COUNTY – JULY 2009. (UNATTRIBUTED IMAGE)

A SCREEN GRAB SHOWS SOME OF WDFW'S NEW WOLF INFORMATION PAGES, THIS ONE FEATURING TALLIES BY PACK AND RECOVERY REGION.