State wildlife officials say a dead wolf recovered earlier this month in Stevens County appears to have died under “suspicious circumstances,” according to a preliminary necropsy.
A more complete autopsy on the carcass of the radio-collared female is planned.
According to a press release, fish and wildlife officers are “investigating the cause of death to determine whether a crime has been committed.”
Results will determine the direction the case takes, the Department of Fish & Wildlife says.
Wolves in this part of Washington were federally delisted a couple years ago, but remain under state endangered species protections and are managed in all facets by WDFW. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the lead investigating agency in the western two-thirds of the state.
No word on precisely where in Stevens County the carcass was found, but WDFW says that it was recovered Feb. 9 in the northern end of the Smackout Pack territory.
Last summer that pack broke up, but has since reformed. However, this individual wolf remained by itself in the same general area, we’re told.
A map of the territory shows the Smackouts generally roam from roughly between Ione and Colville on the south end into Canada on the north, a swath of ground that includes lowland valleys where cattle are raised, private and public timberlands as well as defacto wilderness and one of the highest mountains in this part of the state.
The wolf was one of three captured in February 2013 after two previously collared animals split for Canada. (We understand that state trappers recently captured another member of the pack.) Not only are collars useful for helping keep wolves out of cattle through the range rider program, but they are often programmed to give off mortality signals if no movement is detected for several hours.
A radio-collared wolf of the Huckleberry Pack was killed early last fall on the Spokane Reservation.
Word of the dead wolf initially went out to local authorities last Wednesday, the 12th. The news was broken by Rich Landers at the Spokane Spokesman-Review late Tuesday morning; last week, however, a post on Hunting Washington appears to discuss it. That post places the incident near Cedar Lake, east of Northport, which Northwest Sportsman has confirmed.
Shooting a wolf attacking livestock or pets is allowed without a permit from the agency in the eastern third of the state; they must be reported within 24 hours. Illegally killing one is punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and or a year in jail.
If this is the former case, it would be the first test of that allowance, which came out of a legislative-Fish & Wildlife Commission compromise last spring.
Conservation Northwest, which has been involved in range-riding operations on part of the Smackout territory the past two summers, was angered by the news, on Facebook calling the pack “well-behaved.”
In other Washington wolf news, WDFW will soon report that a Diamond Pack female was recently trapped in British Columbia, the fourth or fifth disperser from the state to be killed in Canada. It had been captured by state wolf workers in 2011. And last week, WDFW said that attempts to capture and collar members of the Lookout Pack near Twisp were cancelled due to bad weather and the “inaccessible location” of the five wolves in the group.