Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists believe a gray wolf pack may exist in western Okanogan County, based on results of a howling survey there July 8.
During the recent survey—initiated in response to reports of wolf sightings, reports of howling and remote-camera photos of possible wolves—biologists heard multiple vocalizations indicating adult and juvenile wolves were in the area. The biologists visited several locations making wolf-like howls, and heard multiple adult and juvenile howls in response.
State and federal biologists will continue investigations to confirm the presence of a wolf pack. If confirmed, it would be Washington’s first resident wolf pack since the species disappeared from the state in the 1930s. While individual wolves have been reported in Washington, resident wolf breeding pairs or packs have not yet been confirmed.
State biologists are working U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U. S. Forest Service biologists on plans to collect DNA samples from some of the animals and equip some with radio-collars.
Biologists say wolf howls can be distinguished from vocalizations by coyotes, dogs and other animals by trained, experienced listeners, and domesticated hybrid animals do not establish in the wild. Hearing multiple howls from juvenile as well as adult animals suggests the presence of a pack rather than transient, adult animals.
The gray wolf is federally protected as an endangered species in the western two-thirds of the state, west of State Routes 97 and 17, under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The area where the howling survey was conducted is well within the federal protection area, and any wolf activity will be handled under joint federal-state Wolf Response Guidelines. For the response guidelines and more information on gray wolves visit http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/diversty/soc/gray_wolf/ on the WDFW website. Gray wolves also are listed as a state endangered species throughout Washington.
In response to the anticipated return of wolves and state management responsibility following federal de-listing of wolves in the eastern third of the state earlier this year, WDFW began developing a conservation and management plan for the species in 2006. A citizen Wolf Working Group was appointed to advise WDFW in developing the plan. The working group provides input to WDFW on key elements of the plan and will review its content.
The draft management plan will be subject to scientific peer review later this year and a 90-day public-review process next year. The final plan will be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for consideration in 2009.
Anyone wishing to report a possible wolf sighting or activity should call the toll-free wolf reporting hotline at 1-888-584-9038. Those with concerns about possible wolf-caused livestock depredation should call the USDA Wildlife Services in Olympia at (360) 753-9884 or the USFWS in Spokane at (509) 891-6839.