Category Archives: Wolf News

New Washington Wolf-reporting Page Posted

I mentioned this was in the works late last month, and today WDFW rolled out its new online wolf-reporting page.

The agency sent out a press release this morning directing folks who believe they’ve seen a wolf or wolves, heard their howls, or found tracks or other evidence of Canis lupus in Washington to now file reports here.

The Game Division’s Carnivore Section manager Donny Martorello says the public’s input will help direct WDFW’s monitoring of the state’s growing number of wolves and build a database of their extent.

“Our state’s wolf-management efforts depend on knowing how many wolves are here, where they are, and where they’re going,” he said in the release.

Not all that different from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s online reporting tool, the new page features photos of a wolf and coyote and description of their size and markings.

There are questions on the observation, a Google map to pinpoint its location and places to upload photographs.

SCREEN SHOTS FROM WDFW'S NEW WOLF REPORTING PAGE.

Biologists and trappers will use the information this spring and summer to try and find new packs and pups to radio collar and follow their movements.

Martorello says that later this year, the map will display areas where wolf activity has been reported.

Other maps of wolf country are also available on WDFW’s site and in the annual USFWS wolf report, as well as Northwestwolfsightings.org, and reports have been compiled since July 2011 at HuntingWashington.

That last site lists the number of wolves in Washington at 158-plus. WDFW’s official count is just one-sixth of that, 27, but the agency continues to acknowledge that there are likely more packs, including unconfirmed ones in the Blue Mountains and North Cascades as well as near Kettle Falls, plus wanderers like OR7.

Livestock operators are still being asked to call WDFW Enforcement (877-933-9847) to report attacks or other problems with wolves.

Since the Fish & Wildlife Commission passed the management plan last December, the agency has taken several proactive steps towards managing and monitoring the state’s wolves, including:

Hiring two trappers and three techs tasked specifically to the species

Moving day-to-day management and implementation of the plan from the Wildlife Program’s Diversity Section to the Game Division’s Carnivore Section

Posting wolf reports more publicly on its Dangerous Wildlife Complaints page

Working on a bill in Olympia that — though it ultimately failed — attempted to redefine wolves as big game for the day they are delisted from state ESA, give livestock owners more flexibility and identify at least a funding source for depradation payments.

 

Wolf Population Increased In Northern Rockies In 2011

Despite the resumption of hunting seasons in Montana and Idaho, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service today announced that the overall wolf population in the Northern Rockies increased last year by roughly 3 percent over 2010, and is also above 2009’s count.

The federal agency says there were 1,774 wolves as well as 109 breeding pairs in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon and a sliver of north-central Utah.

That compares to 1,651 and 111 at the end of 2010 and 1,733 and 115 as of Dec. 31, 2009.

Including wolves in Washington’s Cascades — outside what’s known as the Northern Rockies Distinct Population Segment — the 2011 figure bumps up slightly to 1,783 and 110.

The year-end estimate for Oregon is also higher than ODFW’s previous estimate, made at the end of November. Two more wolves were added to the Walla Walla pack, one to Wenaha and two more are considered dispersers, for a total of 29. That was not unexpected as a spokeswoman thought it was possible.

The Service’s annual survey again noted that the region’s wolves are biologically recovered, and has met minimum population goals for over a decade. Due to litigation, however, it was only last spring that day to day management was finally handed over to the states of Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, though the feds still oversee packs in the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon and whichever state OR7 happens to be in at the moment.

Just under $310,000 was paid out by state and private groups last year for wolf depredations across the region. Six fewer cows were killed in 2011 vs 2010, 193 to 199, while sheep kills also dropped, from 245 to 162.

A total of 166 problem wolves were taken out, including two in Oregon, while Montana hunters took 121 and Idaho hunters killed 200 through the end of 2011.

“Hunters have played a key role for decades in helping to manage and sustain dozens of game populations in North America, and they can do the same for wolves. Combined with efforts to remove wolves found to be predating on livestock, they can help reduce conflicts with humans,” said Steve Guertin, USFWS Regional Director of the Mountain-Prairie Region in a press release. “The reduction of these conflicts is another crucial element in our ability to sustain the wolf’s recovery in the Northern Rocky Mountains.”

USFWS spent $3.65 million on wolf management.

Pack figures for Washington and Oregon wolves are:

WASHINGTON
Diamond: 10
Salmo: 3
Smackout: 5
Lookout: 2
Teanaway: 7

OREGON
Imnaha: 5
Snake River: 5
Umatilla River: 2
Walla Walla: 8
Wenaha: 5
Miscellaneous/lone wolves: 4

For maps, numbers, charts, figures, and reports for each state — Washington’s is thin but informative — see the Service’s gray wolf page.

IN ADDITION TO THE WOLF TERRITORIES SHOWN ON THIS MAP, AT LEAST ONE IDAHO PACK ALSO USES WASHINGTON WHILE A HANDFUL OCCUR NOT FAR FROM OREGON ON THE IDAHO SIDE OF HELLS CANYON. (USFWS)

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.