Category Archives: Wolf News

Lower 48 Gray Wolf Delisting Proposal Going Out For Comment

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to delist gray wolves in the rest of the Lower 48 will go out for comment tomorrow when it is officially posted on the Federal Register.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

“While wolves in the gray wolf entity currently occupy only a portion of wolf historical range, the best available information indicates that the gray wolf entity is recovered and is not now, nor likely in the foreseeable future, to be negatively affected by past, current, and potential future threats such that the entity is in danger of extinction,” reads a portion of the 158-page document now available for previewing.

USFWS says that species don’t have to be recovered throughout their former range — essentially impossible with all the development since their large-scale extirpation — to be delisted from the Endangered Species Act, but that it would continue to monitor populations for five years, like it did with the Northern Rockies wolves and which have continued to thrive under state management.

The agency says that delisting will let it focus on species that still need help.

“Every species kept on the Endangered Species List beyond its point of recovery takes valuable resources away from those species still in need of the act’s protections,” USFWS said in a press release officially announcing the proposal.

Word first came out last week from Department of Interior Acting Secretary David Bernhardt that it was pending.

There are now more than 6,000 wolves in the Lower 48, primarily in the Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes, but those populations are spreading out.

Just last week it became clear that there was likely a wolf or wolves within miles of the Pacific in Southern Oregon after state managers there reported one was probably to blame for a large-scale sheep depredation near Cape Blanco.

Gray wolves were delisted in Idaho, Montana and the eastern thirds of Oregon and Washington in 2011. This new proposal would extend that the western two-thirds of both states and elsewhere, if it is approved. A similar bid in 2013 was challenged in court and the effort was derailed, but quietly began again last June.

“Our deepest gratitude goes to all our conservation partners in this victory, particularly the states and tribes who are committed to wolf conservation and will continue this legacy forward,” said USFWS Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson in the press release.

ODFW and WDFW last week reiterated that they’re ready to take over management of gray wolves across their respective states. It would level the playing field, per se, in dealing with depredations, but would not mean an immediate free-fire zone as the species would remain under state protections for the time being.

Publication on the Federal Register starts a 60-day comment period.

Kretz Washington Wolf Status Review Bill Passes House, Now In Senate

Even as WDFW begins a status checkup of gray wolves in Washington, state lawmakers are giving hard deadlines for the agency to complete it and for the Fish and Wildlife Commission to decide whether to update the species’ listing.

REP. JOEL KRETZ SPEAKS DURING DEBATE ON THE FLOOR OF WASHINGTON’S HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES EARLIER THIS WEEK. (STATE LEGISLATURE)

“We need the department to take this step to officially document how the wolves are faring,” said prime sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) in a press release yesterday. “I know how my ranchers and communities are faring, and it’s not good. Despite honest efforts on both sides of this issue, folks back in my district are desperate. The state needs to show that it’s listening, it hears them, and is going to start taking their concerns to heart.”

HB 2097, which passed out of the House on Monday, requires the review to be based on statewide wolf numbers and scientific data to determine if the “population is no longer in danger of failing, declining, or no longer vulnerable to limited numbers, disease, predation, habitat loss or change, or exploitation.”

The bill must still pass the Senate, where this morning it was introduced and referred to the natural resources committee, and be signed by Governor Inslee, but under it WDFW’s work would have to be finalized by the end of next February and its citizen oversight panel need to reconsider the state endangered status of wolves by August 31, 2020.

A status review is one of two ways under the Washington Administrative Codes’ “delisting criteria” that a species can be taken off state ESA lists.

WAC 220-610-110

Endangered, threatened, and sensitive wildlife species classification.

Delisting criteria
4.1
The commission shall delist a wildlife species from endangered, threatened, or sensitive solely on the basis of the biological status of the species being considered, based on the preponderance of scientific data available.
4.2
A species may be delisted from endangered, threatened, or sensitive only when populations are no longer in danger of failing, declining, are no longer vulnerable, pursuant to section 3.3, or meet recovery plan goals, and when it no longer meets the definitions in sections 2.4, 2.5, or 2.6.

The other is by meeting benchmarks set by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. With wolves, that 2011’s management plan, approved before recovery really got going. Under it, there needs to be either 15 or 18 successful breeding pairs in various parts of the state for certain periods of time.

WDFW has been estimating that that would occur somewhere around 2021, give or take.

Where the latter criteria is essentially a “measuring stick” for how close wolves are to reaching the wolf plan’s predetermined numerical figures, the former considers the “robustness” of the actual population. The most recent annual count did find nearly 15 breeding pairs, though almost all were in one single recovery region.

Indeed, there can be no doubt that pack goals have been reached in Kretz’s district — Pend Oreille, Stevens and Ferry Counties and northeast Okanogan County — but his initial bill’s possible regional delisting wording was stripped out as it moved through the legislature’s lower chamber after its Feb. 19 introduction.

Still, the unanimous 98-0 vote was a good sign for ranchers, hunters and others concerned about growing wolf numbers.

The bill also includes provisions for WDFW to study how wolf recovery in the state’s federally delisted eastern third is affecting recolonization elsewhere.

While a fringe out-of-state pro-wolf blog is already claiming the goal posts are being moved, page 68 of the wolf plan also states that if 2011’s population models turn out to be wrong, “Incorporating wolf demographic data specific to Washington will allow WDFW to update predictions of population persistence during wolf recovery phases and to revise the recovery objectives, if needed.”

And the bill would continue efforts in Ferry and Stevens Counties to deal with wolf-livestock conflicts, and create a grant program for using nonlethal deterrents in all of Eastern Washington.

“In many ways, the state has drug its feet in addressing my constituents’ concerns regarding the wolf issue,” said Kretz in the press release. “The state needs to step up financially and assist with the problems it has created, or at the very least, neglected.”

Paula Swedeen of Conservation Northwest said she appreciated lawmakers commitments to recovering wolves and providing enough funding for wolf-livestock conflict avoidance work, what she called “a significant positive step for both wolves and ranchers.”

“This allows for more social tolerance to be fostered across the state, including in the rural areas where wolves are already abundant. There is robust discussion about increasing the effort to promote coexistence in areas where livelihoods are affected by wolf recovery,” she said in a statement.

It all comes as US Interior Department Acting Secretary David Bernhardt last week said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would soon propose removing gray wolves from ESA protections in the western two-thirds of Washington and elsewhere in the Lower 48.

WDFW has long maintained it is ready take over managing wolves across the state.

Kretz has introduced numerous wolf bills in the state legislature, some more serious than others. It appears this latest one has a good head of steam and could pass.

ODFW Reports ‘Probable’ Wolf Attack On Sheep Not Far From Pacific

Oregon wolf managers are reporting a “probable depredation” within miles of the Pacific Ocean.

They say that over a two week period between late February and earlier this week, the carcasses of 23 sheep — nearly all lambs — were found by a producer and USDA Wildlife Services in a “partially fenced” private pasture in Curry County’s White Mountain area, which by the gazetteer is just east of Denmark and Langlois along a lonely stretch of Highway 101 by Cape Blanco.

Examinations of several carcasses “were consistent with a wolf attack, but lack diagnostic evidence to clearly differentiate between wolf and domestic dog,” leading to the probable determination.

If a wolf, it is likely to be a disperser.


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The incident occurred in that part of Oregon where wolves still are federally listed and thus where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead agency.

Neither federal nor state managers are currently monitoring any known wolves in Curry County, though tracks on the Pistol River, to the south between Gold Beach and Brookings, were investigated last year and were determined to be “consistent with a wolf” by an ODFW biologist.

A trail cam photo from last fall taken near a “possible/unknown” sheep depredation nearby in Coos County, to the north, captured a “blurry” picture of an animal “that could have been a wolf or dog.”

Cameras have been set up near the site of the attack on the White Mountain flock to see if anything returns.

The public can report wolves in Oregon on this ODFW webpage.

The news comes as today USFWS announced it proposed to delist gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Oregon and Washington as well as elsewhere in the Lower 48.

Feds To Propose Delisting Gray Wolves In Rest Of WA, OR, Lower 48

Editor’s note: Updated 12:15 p.m. March 7, 2019, with comments from WDFW.

Federal wildlife overseers are proposing to delist gray wolves in the western two-thirds of Washington and Oregon and elsewhere across the Lower 48.

A WDFW IMAGE SHOWS A TEANAWAY PACK MEMBER IN CENTRAL WASHINGTON SHORTLY AFTER COMING TO AND WEARING A TELEMETRY COLLAR. (WDFW)

The news was reported by the Associated Press this morning.

“Today, Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon propose a rule to delist the gray wolf in the Lower 48 states and return management of the species back to the states and tribes,” confirmed a USFWS spokesperson.

Bernhardt is in Denver for the 84th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference.

The official termed the recovery of gray wolves — which began with the formation of packs in Northwest Montana in the 1980s and then federal reintroductions in Central Idaho and Yellowstone in the 1990s — “one of our nation’s great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species, such as the bald eagle, that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the (Endangered Species Act).”

Yes, a success, but also a flashpoint, and surely this latest attempt will lead to more court challenges, like those that derailed 2013’s proposal.

That one followed on 2011’s successful delisting in the eastern two-thirds of Washington and Oregon, as well as all of Idaho and Montana.


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Last June, federal officials again began reviewing the status of wolves outside the Northern Rockies recovery zone, with the goal of putting it out for public comment by the end of 2018.

That didn’t quite happen, but now it appears that it has.

“Once the proposed rule has published in the Federal Register, the public will have an opportunity to comment,” the USFWS spokesperson said via email.

If it goes through, among the notable impacts would be that WDFW and ODFW would have a more level playing field for dealing with wolf depredations. They can lethally remove members of livestock-attacking packs in far Eastern Washington and Oregon, but west of a line that snakes across both regions they can’t.

Still, it wouldn’t be an immediate free-fire zone, as both states stress nonlethal conflict avoidance tactics in trying to prevent depredations in the first place.

 “We haven’t gotten any official confirmation, and it’s likely this would be a drawn-out process, but if protections were lifted all of Oregon’s wolves would fall under the state management plan,” ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy told Salem Statesman-Journal outdoor reporter Zach Urness. “We’re ready to handle this if the federal rules are lifted.”

WDFW’s wolf policy lead Donny Martorello echoed that sentiment.

“We have adequate protections for wolves in this state,” he said.

The agency has felt that way for several years, in fact, encouraging USFWS to delist wolves in the rest of Washington and asking a state US House lawmaker to spur the feds as well.

“The best available science shows that the gray wolf has successfully recovered from the danger of extinction and no longer requires federal protection,” said that Congressman, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Yakima Valley) in a press release. “We can see in Washington state that the wolf population is growing quickly while being effectively managed by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife in the eastern third of the state. I applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s for moving forward with a proposal to delist the wolf in the lower 48 states in order to return management to the states.”

Despite the fears of wolf advocates and highly litigious organizations, wolf populations have grown best largely in the state-managed areas.

“We’re reviewing the delisting proposal from USFWS and we empathize with concerns from colleagues in states such as California and Colorado where wolves have not yet recovered,” said Chase Gunnell, spokesman for Seattle’s Conservation Northwest. “However, given the quality of Washington’s Wolf Plan and investments in collaborative wolf management work here, we do not expect federal delisting to have a significant impact on wolves in our state. Wolf recovery is progressing well in Washington and our wolves will remain a state endangered species until state recovery goals are met.”

Martorello said that the speed at which a federal delisting proposal would likely move would “synch” with WDFW’s own look at how well the species is doing.

Today’s news comes as the state has also begun its own status review of gray wolves, which are state-listed as endangered.

“The department will review all relevant data pertaining to the population status and factors affecting existence of wolves in Washington. Based on the information collected and reviewed, the department will make recommendations to maintain the species current listing status as endangered or reclassify species to sensitive or threatened or other status,” an agency statement says.

A bill in the state legislature also prompts WDFW to wrap up the review by the end of December, though it was amended to remove the possibility of considering delisting in the eastern third of the state as well as made “null and void” if funding for the work wasn’t included in the budget.

North-central Washington Mule Deer ‘Really Changing Their Home Ranges’ In Response To Wolves: UW Study

A University of Washington press release is fleshing out something I reported before last deer season:

Muleys and whitetails are beginning to change their behavior as wolf numbers increase in North-central Washington, and hunters might want to start looking in rougher country for the big-eared bounders.

A MULE DEER DOE AND FAWN CAPTURED ON A TRAIL CAM DURING A UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON WOLF-DEER STUDY. (UW)

“Overall, the researchers found that mule deer in gray wolf areas changed their behavior to avoid wolves altogether — mainly by moving to higher, steeper elevations, away from roads and toward brushy, rocky terrain,” states the news release that came out yesterday.

“Alternately, white-tailed deer that favor sprinting and early detection as ways to escape from predators were more likely to stick to their normal behavior in wolf areas, sprinting across open, gently rolling terrain with good visibility — including along roads,” it continues.

TWO WOLVES ROAM ACROSS A SNOWY EASTERN WASHINGTON LANDSCAPE. (UW)

That conclusion from the press release is based on field research involving collared deer and wolves and trail cams from 2013 through 2016 in areas of Okanogan and Ferry Counties occupied and unoccupied by packs.

“Mule deer faced with the threat of wolves are really changing their home ranges, on a large scale,” said UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences associate professor Aaron Wirsing.

He is one of six UW, Oregon State University and other coauthors of an article recently published in the journal Oecologia recently.

He said that the species is moving uphill into less smooth territory “where wolves are less likely to hunt successfully.”

While the UW press release does note that that shift “could affect hunting opportunities” — “Indeed, some hunters in eastern Washington have already reported seeing mule deer higher on ridges where they are less accessible than in past years” — what it doesn’t mention is that that move just puts muleys closer to the jaws of another predator better adopted to stalking rough country.

Mountain lions.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM A VIDEO CAMERA SLUNG AROUND THE NECK OF A WHITETAIL DOE FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON’S DEER-WOLF STUDY SHOWS A MOUNTAIN LION ATTACK. THE CAMERA WAS LATER RECOVERED AND ITS VIDEO POSTED TO NRA PUBS’ YOUTUBE CHANNEL.

One of the coauthors, Justin Dellinger, pointed that out when I spoke to him in the lead-up to 2018’s rifle buck hunt.

While the number of deer killed by wolves in the study was considerably fewer than how many cougars took –2 vs. 12 — he was quick to note that the data set is short, and it’s specific to North-central Washington and the early stages of wolf colonization.

Dellinger stated that the study occurred during relatively easy winters and theorized that in a severe one, mule deer driven down into open lowland winter range by snow could be preyed upon more heavily by wolves.

But there can be no doubt that even as deer adapt to the return of the long-legged lopers, they are still ending up on the menu.

Not far to the east of the study area, in similar though more densely forested country with fewer muleys and more whitetails, another UW researcher and his scat-sniffing dogs found that deer are the primary food source for wolves.

LAST YEAR A TRAIL CAMERA CAPTURED WHAT’S BELIEVED TO BE A SMACKOUT PACK YEARLING PACKING HINDQUARTERS OF A WHITETAIL FAWN BACK TO THE DEN IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (JEFF FLOOD)

Earlier this winter, Dr. Samuel Wasser told Washington lawmakers, who funded his work, that they collected 8,456 piles of poo in northern Stevens and Pend Oreille County between April 2015 and June 2017, ran 6,095 through a lab and found that 826 had been left by 114 individual wolves.

As for what those packs were digesting, deer represented the largest portion of their diet, though moose weren’t far behind.

A PRESENTATION BY A UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON PROFESSOR BEFORE THE STATE LEGISLATURE SHOWS WHAT LAB ANALYSIS FOUND TO BE KEY PARTS OF THE DIET OF WOLVES IN NORTHEAST WASHINGTON. (DR. SAMUEL WASSER)

Deer also made up the plurality of cougar and coyote diets.

According to the UW press release, wolves will chase deer  “sometimes upwards of 6 miles.”

It postulates that whitetail hunting “likely won’t change to the same degree with the presence of wolves.”

It also says that the return of wolves to deer country “could affect other parts of the ecosystem,” likely meaning vegetation cover, “and perhaps reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions.”

A heat map detailing where roadkill salvagers have picked up the most deer on state routes since July 2016 does show a number on Highways 20 and 21 in the area near where the wolf-deer study took place, but much higher concentrations in more populated areas where wolves are somewhat less likely to occur.

A MAP PREPARED FOR THE WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION EARLIER THIS WINTER SHOWS ROADKILL SALVAGE HOT SPOTS FOR BLACKTAIL, WHITETAIL AND MULE DEER ACROSS THE STATE. (WDFW)

The UW wolf-deer study was funded by the university, National Science Foundation, WDFW, Safari Club International Foundation and Conservation Northwest.

The Colville Tribes recently changed its wolf season for tribal members in areas that were part of the study — the reservation and the “North Half” — to year-round without a quota.

WDFW and UW researchers are also in year three of a five-year predator-prey study across the northern tier of Eastern Washington that should also bring new information about how wolves, deer, moose, elk, cougars, coyotes and other critters in the area’s wildlife guild are adapting to the changing dynamics.

Wolf Season Now Open Year-round, No Limit On Colville Reservation, North Half

UPDATED 5:30 P.M. FEB 22, 2019 WITH COMMENTS FROM WDFW NEAR BOTTOM

Colville wildlife managers posted a rule change this afternoon that removes the annual limit on wolves for tribal hunters as well as switched the season to open year round both on the reservation and what’s known as the “North Half.”

ONE OF TWO YOUNG WOLVES CAPTURED AND COLLARED ON THE COLVILLE RESERVATION SEVERAL YEARS AGO. (COLVILLE CONFEDERATED TRIBES)

Last September, the Business Council had dropped the three-wolf limit on the “South Half” — the 2,100-square-mile reservation in North-central Washington’s southeast Okanogan and southern Ferry Counties — but yesterday members approved extending that to both zones in a 12-0 vote.


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Wolf hunting in the North Half, which is comprised of federal, state and private lands comanaged with WDFW, was otherwise slated to end at the end of this month.

“Tags are still available at the Fish and Wildlife Offices as well as hide sealing by appointment,” a notice from the department reads.

The hunt is only open to tribal members, and there are somewhere around eight packs combined in both halves, including the Old Profanity Territory, Togo, Beaver Creek, Strawberry, Nc’icn, Nason, Frosty and Whitestone wolves.

Following the federal delisting in the eastern third of the state, the Colvilles opened the first wolf hunt in Washington in modern history in 2012, on the reservation, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the first was taken.

Then in 2017, the Business Council opened the North Half with a quota of three wolves.

When the 2017-18 South Half season came to a close last February, wildlife managers reported all three wolves in the quota had been taken.

“We’re not expecting it to represent a conservation concern in the region or statewide,” said Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf manager, late this afternoon.

He confirmed that eight of the state’s 25 known packs overlap the halves and that the recovery region already has 13 successful breeding pairs, three times as many as are required under the state management plan.

Martorello also said that he didn’t anticipate the tribal harvest to be markedly different than what it has been.

When the Colvilles first began hunting wolves, the agency pointed out that the tribes have the right to manage wildlife on their reservation however they wish.

Earlier today in Olympia, a bill directing WDFW to immediately begin a status review of gray wolves across Washington and consider whether to change the species’ listing either statewide or regionally had a public hearing and was passed out of a House natural resources committee.

Chief sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz, a Republican from Wauconda, not far north of the Colville Reservation, said there wasn’t anything “prescriptive” in the bill and that it wasn’t meant to make “to make people nervous,” but that it raised the possibility of managing distinct wolf populations differently.

“My district has 90 percent of the wolves in the state. I get pictures every day of wolves all over, outside pack boundaries, in backyards,” he said.

However, the bill will probably be amended if it moves forward.

Ranch Hand Shoots, Kills Adams Co. Wolf Chasing Cattle

A ranch hand shot and killed one of three wolves he spotted chasing cattle in northeast Adams County earlier this week, a legal use of “caught in the act” provisions under state rules.

A SCREENSHOT FROM GOOGLE MAPS SHOWS ADAMS COUNTY (RED LINE) AND A YELLOW CIRCLE SHOWS ITS NORTHEASTERN CORNER. (GOOGLE MAPS)

After seeing the livestock running on the evening of Feb. 4 then the wolves, the employee yelled, causing two of them to break off pursuit, but after a brief pause the third continued to chase one cow, WDFW reported this morning.

“The ranch employee shot and killed the wolf from approximately 120 yards away,” the agency stated.

WDFW staffers and game wardens quickly responded to the scene to investigate that evening.


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“Based on the preliminary findings, WDFW law enforcement indicated that the shooting was lawful and consistent with state regulations. In areas of Washington where wolves are not listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, WAC 220-440-080 states the owner of domestic animals (or an immediate family member, agent, or employee) may kill one gray wolf without a permit issued by the WDFW director if the wolf is attacking their domestic animals,” a WDFW statement out this morning said.

The wolf was determined to be an “unmarked” adult female but its breeding status wasn’t immediately clear. Mating season is now.

There have been other caught in the act incidents in the delisted part of the state, but what makes this one unusual is its location.

It occurred in the Channeled Scablands, at the edge of the open, lightly populated far eastern Columbia Basin and northwestern corner of the Palouse, far from what we’ve come to know as classic wolf country.

WDFW’S 2018 WOLF PACK MAP. (WDFW)

Three wolves traveling together constitutes a pack and then some — pups born in previous years? — but none are shown anywhere near here on WDFW’s wolf maps, and there aren’t many public reports from the region either.

Still, there has been at least one depredation in these parts in the past, a pregnant ewe killed in nearby northern Whitman County in December 2014.

State wildlife conflict staffers are working with the rancher to try and prevent more attacks and others are looking for the wolves to potentially add them to the pack map for the annual year-end count for 2018, WDFW reported.

With wolves in this unexpected area of Washington, it’s highly likely that the agency’s minimum count will be well above last year’s 122, with one University of Washington researcher suggesting it’s nearing 200. That was based in part on evidence his wolf-poop-sniffing dogs found in the state’s northeast corner and elsewhere.

So How Many Wolves Are There Actually In Washington?

Are there twice as many wolves running around parts of Washington as WDFW’s minimum count suggests?

It seems more likely in the wake of a state Senate committee work session on the species Tuesday afternoon.

Information from it is giving Washington wolf world observers a chance to compare WDFW’s figures for parts of two northeastern counties with how many wolves that dung dog-gathered data says were actually there at the time.

Dung dogs would be canines that the University of Washington’s Dr. Samuel Wasser et al have trained to find scat. They’re so good that they can smell Puget Sound orca ordure a mile away, Wasser told senators.

On dry land between April 2015 and February 2016, they helped researchers sniff out 4,685 piles of poo in wild portions of Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties.

A MAP FROM DR. SAMUEL WASSER’S PRESENTATION TO A WASHINGTON SENATE COMMITTEE SHOWS THE ROUTES THAT HIS SPECIALLY TRAINED DUNG-DETECTION DOGS RAN IN AREAS OF STEVENS AND PEND OREILLE COUNTIES IN 2015 AND EARLY 2016, A PERIOD DURING WHICH FIVE KNOWN WOLF PACKS OCCURRED IN THE AREA. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Their survey area that season overlapped the territories of the Smackout, Dirty Shirt, Carpenter Ridge, Goodman Meadows and Skookum Packs.

With 3,917 of the samples subsequently analyzed in the lab so far, 1,878 (48%) were determined to be coyote crap, 714 (18%) to be bobcat BMs, 541 (14%) to be wolf waste, 323 (8%) to be black bear brownies and 212 (5%) to be mountain lion leavings.

What the remaining 7 percent was wasn’t clear, but the scat not only told researchers what species excreted it (as well as what they’d been, er, wolfing down), but also allowed them to genetically identify the specific animal from whose alimentary canal it exited.

While counting wolves has been an inexact science up to this point, Wasser told members of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee they were able to determine that those 541 wolf samples were left by 60 different individual wolves.

WASSER’S PRESENTATION OVERLAYS WOLF SCAT WITH KNOWN WOLF PACK LOCATIONS. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

He said his abundance estimate for the area between spring 2015 through midwinter 2016 was 68.

Now, it’s not quite apples to apples, more like apples to pears, but that timing does allow us to compare his findings with some from WDFW’s 2015 year-end count, which came out in early 2016.

The state agency estimated that the packs that left all that poop numbered at least 30 wolves — eight in Smackout, eight in Dirty Shirt, two in Carpenter, seven in Goodman and five in Skookum.

Thirty is, I want to stress, a minimum number, the confirmed headcount, but it is also a lot fewer than 60, let alone 68.

Hunters and others have long suspected that there are more wolves running around than WDFW’s minimum, and the evidence collected by scat-sniffing dogs from just one part of the state, albeit a wolf-heavy one, seems to bear that out.

So how might the state agency explain such a big numerical difference?

Partially it’s that this is a different, more precise way to count wolves than how WDFW has had funding to do it — collaring wolves and trying to find them and their packies later on.

But some of Wasser’s 60 known animals could have been pups born in spring 2015, defecated all over, but didn’t survive to the end of the year to be counted during the state’s aerial surveys.

They could have been dispersers from elsewhere that, say, ate a 49 Degrees North deer/moose/elk/cow/bird/rodent/snowshoe hare/etc., left a dropping or two and continued on their journey out of the area.

They could have been born to one of the packs, learned how to hunt and subsequently dispersed before biologists buzzed around that winter in the Cessna.

They could have been poached — state game wardens did find evidence that a man illegally killed at least two members of the Goodman Meadows Pack prior to a March 2016 search warrant on his cabin.

And it’s possible that at least three if not more of WDFW’s nine listed known lone/miscellaneous wolves in the greater Eastern Recovery Zone at the end of 2015 were in this area during the survey, so it’s the known 30 plus that many more.

Still, it’s eye-opening, and what’s more Wasser also told senators that during the following field season his dogs found evidence of at least 92 wolves in the same area, and he estimated there were 95 there then.

He said that between the two sessions of fieldwork, they found evidence of 114 unique wolves there.

The bottom line?

Later this winter WDFW will release its 2018 year-end minimum count. That figure is likely to be a lot higher than 2017’s 122, and it may also include new packs from a whole new area of Washington.

While state wolf managers have yet to confirm there are any wolves in the South Cascades, thanks to legislative funding, last year Wasser’s dogs found potential evidence in northwestern Yakima County and multiple parts of Skamania County.

ANOTHER SLIDE FROM WASSER’S PRESENTATION SHOWS ROUTES HIS DUNG-DETECTION DOGS RAN IN THE CENTRAL AND SOUTH CASCADES AND WHERE THEY FOUND POTENTIAL WOLF POOP THAT IS NOW UNDERGOING FINAL ANALYSIS WITH RESULTS EXPECTED SOON. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

Those feces are now undergoing final analysis with results expected soon, but if “potential wolf” droppings the dung dogs found in the known Teanaway Pack territory are any indication, it seems possible there may be a pack or two in the South Cascades.

Yes, wolves, wolf impacts and wolf people are pains in the ass to manage, but having four successful breeding pairs there is important to reaching the recovery goals that begin statewide delisting processes, and the sooner that occurs the better.

Well, the better for everyone except the groups that are trying to keep the species under kid-glove management, including through an upcoming court case against WDFW.

But this new data strengthens the argument that there are far more wolves in Washington, they’re likely far more widespread and they’re far, far more resilient than Arizona’s Center for Biological Diversity etc., want you to know.

Senators Briefed On Washington’s Wolves, Ongoing Research

No, wolves don’t have rainbows shooting out of their butts, but what is being excreted from the wild canids’ back end had the attention of state senators in Olympia this afternoon.

They learned that among the more than 1,100 scat samples collected in South Cascades by poop-sniffing dogs last year are suggestions that there are indeed wolves in a part of Washington that none are known to occur, key for meeting statewide recovery goals.

A SLIDE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON’S DR. SAMUEL WASSER SHOWS ROUTES HIS DUNG-DETECTION DOGS RAN IN THE CENTRAL AND SOUTH CASCADES AND WHERE THEY FOUND POTENTIAL WOLF POOP THAT IS NOW UNDERGOING FINAL ANALYSIS WITH RESULTS EXPECTED SOON. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

And DNA from wolf doots collected in the state’s wolf-heavy northeast corner paint a highly complex picture of packs’ numbers, diets, movements and even pregnancy rates — one rising pack had three females in the family way, per se, at a single time in a recent winter.

Those were among the highlights of a presentation that Dr. Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology gave to members of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege’s Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee.

IN THIS SCREENSHOT FROM TVW, DR. WASSER POINTS TO A SLIDE IN HIS PRESENTATION BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE. (TVW)

WDFW and other UW officials were also on hand to detail the state of the state’s wolves and provide an update on a  big legislatively funded predator-prey study.

It was an interesting hour or so rich with presentations, graphs, maps that added to what’s known about the wild dogs here.

There were details on the diet of wolves in Pend Oreille and Stevens Counties — primarily deer but also moose and to a much lesser degree elk — as well as coyotes there, including a stronger percentage of moose than you might expect from the diminutive dogs — but are they merely scavenging wolf kills?

Just as senators heard that wolf and coyote densities differ markedly, they also learned that the predator-prey study aims to look at the effect of whether the former reduces numbers of the latter and thus their predation on fawns, as well as sort out the interactions between wolves and cougars and whether the big cats have to kill more often to make up for the wild dogs taking their quarry.

They learned that Washington’s wolf population continues to rise by an average of 30 percent a year, even as 22 have been killed to try and head off livestock depredations that have also occurred at a lower rate than in the Northern Rockies states.

And they saw how collecting dung with dogs and then sequencing it could give much more accurate wolf counts. Two years’ worth from Pend Oreille and Colville Valley packs show at least 60 different wolves and an estimated 68 there between April 2015 and February 2016 and 92 and likely 95 between October 2016 and June 2017.

“The dogs got samples from almost every single wolf,” Wasser said.

While WDFW has been careful to stress that its annual wolf counts are minimums and that more are likely out there, this new information will begin to put up a better ceiling on numbers.

After the presentations senators asked several questions, including one whether it was possible to breed for nondepredating wolves, which Wasser said was impossible.

Chase Gunnell at Conservation Northwest said his organization believes there are north of 150 wolves running around the state and was excited to see the upcoming 2018 year-end census.

“We strongly support the stewardship of these species, and believe wolf conservation and management must find a balance that works in the long run—for wolves, people and all the Northwest’s wildlife,” he said.

Revised ODFW Wolf Plan Sent To Wildlife Commission For Adoption

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

After completing the last scheduled facilitated meeting with stakeholder representatives on Monday, Jan. 8, ODFW staff are working to finalize a revised Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. That Plan will be presented to the Commission at its March 15 meeting in Salem for final adoption.

SNAKE RIVER PACK WOLVES CAPTURED BY REMOTE CAMERA IN THE HELLS CANYON NATIONAL RECREATION AREA. (ODFW)

Last year, Commissioners decided to postpone Wolf Plan revisions and conduct additional facilitated outreach in hopes of getting more consensus from stakeholders. Professional facilitator Deb Nudelman with Kearns and West facilitated five meetings with stakeholders from late August 2018 through early January 2019.

While stakeholders representing ranching, hunting and wolf conservation came to agreement on some topics, there was no consensus on several of the most controversial issues including the number of livestock depredations that leads to consideration of  lethal removal of wolves when nonlethal deterrents have not worked. Environmental group stakeholders with Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife announced late last Friday, Jan. 4 that they would not attend the final meeting.

“We were disappointed these groups left the discussion and we did not have the full stakeholder group present at the final meeting,” said Derek Broman, ODFW Carnivore Coordinator. “Since the drafting of the original 2005 plan, stakeholders remain very passionate so consensus is challenging to achieve.”

The facilitated process was designed to create a space for stakeholders to negotiate and allow for give and take on all sides,” he continued. “We thank all stakeholders for their time and attention at the meetings and for the progress made on several issues, and everyone thanks Kearns and West for their professional facilitating of these meetings.”

Stakeholder groups were able to find some consensus on wolf collaring priorities, the desire to increase the use of nonlethal techniques and funding enhanced population modeling. But stakeholders remained divided on lethal take of wolves when they are killing livestock, including the number and time frame of confirmed depredations before lethal control of wolves is considered.

ODFW is responsible for investigating livestock depredations and uses a rigorous, evidence-based process to determining if a wolf or wolves was responsible.  A certain number of “confirmed” livestock depredations can lead to consideration of lethal removal of wolves by the department or a landowner. Currently, the Plan allows for consideration of lethal removal after two confirmed depredations within no specific time frame, but ODFW typically authorizes lethal removal after three or more confirmed depredations. In practice, ODFW has denied more lethal removal requests for wolves than it has approved.

Since the first Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was approved in 2005, hunting of wolves has been in the Plan as a potential tool to manage wolf populations. Throughout the current review of the Wolf Plan, no proposals have been made by ODFW to begin hunting wolves.  If hunting of wolves were to be proposed by staff in the future, it would have to be approved by the Commission in a public rule-making process.

The Wolf Plan proposal will be available for review prior to the March 15 meeting Commission meeting on the wolf website at www.odfw.com/wolves