In the summer of 2008 local conservationists responding to numerous eyewitness accounts of adult wolf sightings coming from in and around Okanogan County were greeted with a series of significant discoveries. The first of which came one summer night during a planned “howling test” performed by a team scientist. The scientist’s “howls” were acknowledged not only by adult voices, juvenile howls were recorded as well. The night’s volunteer test was quickly followed by a large scale study conducted by several state research organizations. The results, DNA testing confirmed the resident animals were pure wild wolf. Knowledge in hand, more volunteers from the Washington based conservation group, Conservation Northwest, installed remote cameras in the North Cascade area. The reward was priceless; during a routine check one Sunday night volunteers were delighted to find images of an adult male grey wolf overseeing a group of playful pups. The pictures confirmed biologist’s hopes and announcements were made: Washington was home to our first official wolf pack in more than 70 years.

Government mandated measures along with overzealous hunting and trapping in the early 20th century had previously eradicated the wolf population. And this pack, dubbed “Lookout Pack”, represents the species first precarious step back into the state since 1930.

Based on genetic evidence collected from “Lookout’s” two adults, biologists believe that the pair is descended from a population of grey wolves in British Columbia. And, while tenuous, the pack was welcomed back to the US by stern federal and state protection laws. The grey wolf is listed as endangered in Washington State and, despite some governmental efforts, remains protected under federal law as well. This, a majority of state residents hoped, would provide the wolves a fighting chance to reestablish their role as apex predators in an un-balanced ecosystem. Sadly, the criminal ramifications and hefty fines (up to $100,000) proved insufficient in protecting the new pups. In April of this year poachers were caught trying to smuggle the bloody pelts of two “Lookout Pack” members into Canada.

Current scientific thought on the subject of wolf social systems show, in many ways, that pack tendencies mimic the behavior of human families. In most cases the matriarchal species are dominated by two adult wolves, the pair is often the only breeding couple in the pack and they typically mate for life. Despite the commonly named “Alpha Pair’s” exclusive right at parenthood, other members of the pack also assume the role of caring for their young. A healthy wolf gestation lasts for 62 days and will produce anywhere from two to eleven pups. Although confirmation is difficult the pack is now thought to consist of seven wolves; two adults and the five remaining offspring.

While “Lookout Pack” is the only true wolf pack documented in Washington, their have been sightings of solitary wolves throughout the state for several years now, including a “lucky” photograph taken by remote camera in 2007. Since the confirmation of the pack’s existence in summer 2008 state agencies have organized a conservation program in hopes of replenishing the lost species.

One of the major challenges for wolf re-population stems from European myth and active imaginations painting the wolves as cunning stalkers of man and small children. And images of vicious packs, fangs bore, closing in on helpless and unsuspecting maidens are resonate in our minds and in the stories of early America. With a bit of research these images melt away into what they are-stories. In reality there are few recorded attacks on humans by wolves in American history. Attack by hybrids or wild and even domesticated dogs are, and have always been, far more common. The wolf pack hunts large game such as elk, deer and moose and tends to take only the sick and elderly of the herd and attacks on livestock and smaller animals are typically made by solitary animals during times of scarcity or pack disassembly. This fact has lead many biologists to insist that the wolf plays an important role in the health of the herd by insuring only the fit survive to reproduce. The number of wolves in the wilds of Washington; however, are, at present, in no position to impact any of the state’s large mammal populations; let alone pose a significant threat to people.

Another hope of conservation scientists is the dispersal of elk herds in more densely packed and protected areas, such as the Olympic Rain Forest, where the banks and land have been severely impacted by their sheer numbers.

The efforts being made on the part of wolf populations by government and science is both ambitious and thought-provoking, ranging from concerns over species diversification to re-imbursements to local farmers whose livestock may become at risk in the future. A draft of this plan in its preliminary stages is now available for viewing, and, after nearly a year of cohesive efforts, seems to cover most of the concerns and hopes shared by Washington residents.

You can view a copy of the draft by linking to: http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/diversty/soc/gray_wolf/conservation_plan.htm

Also view Conservation Northwest’s latest wolf pack updates where you’ll see pictures and even hear the calls of “Lookout Pack” pups: http://www.conservationnw.org/wildlife-habitat/wolf-pack-confirmed-in-north-central-washington.

 

Read more about “Lookout Pack’s” progress in our upcoming Spring Issue.

 

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