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July 25, 2008

Gray Wolves are back in Methow Valley Washington

six pups romping near a remote motion-sensor camera on private land in the Methow Valley (Photo: Conservation Northwest)
These six pups romping near a remote motion-sensor camera on private land in the Methow Valley are part of the first confirmed gray wolf pack in the state of Washington since the 1930s.
Photo courtesy of Conservation Northwest.

Remember when we said stay tuned for news of wolves in Washington State? That news has finally arrived! Six wolf pups have been confirmed in Methow Valley.

One of our Wildlife Volunteer Corps projects, suggested by Trish White, Director of Defenders' Habitat and Highways Program, was an opportunity for volunteers team up with Conservation Northwest and to set up cameras to capture footage of wildlife near the site of a proposed wildlife overpass. The volunteers have been going out monthly since May to check the footage on the cameras in order to see what kind of wildlife was roaming the area.

From Methow Valley News:

DNA samples confirm gray wolves are back in Methow Valley

Six pups are part of first confirmed wolf pack in valley in more than 70 years

By Joyce Campbell, Methow Valley News

A pair of wolves and six pups living in a remote area of the Methow Valley has been positively identified as wild gray wolves, according to state wildlife officials. DNA testing on the two adults has confirmed the first documented resident wolf pack in Washington state since the 1930's.

"They are definitely wolves," said Scott Fitkin, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who helped radio-collar the pair of wolves. Test results of DNA evidence was announced by the WDFW on Wednesday, July 23, according to Fitkin.

Listen to audio of wolf pup howls >>

The male and female wolves were captured and radio-collared on July 18 by wolf experts from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Nez Perce tribe, assisted by biologists with WDFW and the U.S. Forest Service.

"They found the pups, found the rendezvous site and trapped two animals, possibly the alpha male and alpha female," said Tom Buckley, spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is monitoring the situation. "They took hair samples and ear plugs and sent them to a lab to identify more concretely that they are 100 percent wolves, not somebody's hybrid."

Biologists on the interagency team investigating wolf reports have had mounting evidence of the existence of a pack of wolves in the Methow. Photographs, reports by trained biologists and a howling survey have all pointed to the existence of a wild wolf pack, but the issue of wolf-dog hybrids left some doubts. The recent availability of new genetic testing methods has made DNA testing the new standard of positive identification.

At daybreak Friday (July 18), a Washington state wildlife biologist and two expert wolf specialists from Idaho checked their trap line and ound both a male and female canine in the padded leghold traps.

They tranquilized the animals, weighed them, tagged the ears, fitted them with radio collars and took DNA samples. Hair and the patch of skin from the ear tag punch would soon be on their way to a lab in California to confirm if these were wild wolves. 

The lactating female weighed 70 pounds, according to Fitkin. "Wolves are always lean," he said.

It was the third night of trapping in an area where 10 days earlier, Fitkin led a howling survey that confirmed the presence of wolf-like adults with pups. "They won't stay much longer where they are," said Fitkin. He said a wolf pack would typically have a 200-square-mile territory.

To protect the animals, biologists are not specifying the location where the wolves were trapped.

The same day that Fitkin and the trappers radio-collared the wolves, a remote motion-sensor camera captured what biologists believe to be some other members of the pack – six pups.

"This is the most exciting result. It's unexpected, but exactly what we wanted," said Jasmine Minbashian, who leads the citizen wildlife-monitoring program for Conservation Northwest. "We've exceeded our wildest dreams to be helping photograph the first wolf pups in this area for a long time."

The non-profit conservation group has four cameras and two teams of volunteers in the Methow Valley investigating recent wolf sightings and older unconfirmed wolf sightings. The group is working and coordinating with WDFW and Forest Service biologists on camera placements in various locations from the Twisp River to the Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness area.

Following the release of the radio-collared adults, biologists used radio telemetry to track both the male and female to the area where the howling of adults and pups confirmed that the pack had successfully reunited.

Biologists and technicians will track the animals to see where they are going and see if they have an established territory, said Buckley. He said they wouldn't go beyond where the food is that they need.

"They can be observed if they go to an area where they might be in trouble, like hanging out next to a grazing area," said Buckley. "Trackers can observe, monitor and find them again to put more collars on or take proactive means of avoiding conflict."      

Buckley said the Defenders of Wildlife organization has extended its compensation program for losses due to wolf predation to include Washington state.

Though Washington state has not been home to a wolf pack since the 1930s, state wildlife officials have been expecting them to cross the border from Canada and disperse into the state from recovered populations in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.      

A state wolf conservation and management plan has been drafted, and a    collaborative effort of the WDFW, the Forest Service, the USFWS and Conservation Northwest was initiated in June to investigate an increased number of unconfirmed reports of wolf observations and activities.                            

A pure gray wolf was killed in a traffic incident 40 miles northeast of  Spokane in June, according to a WDFW press release July 17. DNA tests confirmed the animal was 100 percent wolf, and that its DNA was similar to that from wolves in northwest Montana and southern British Columbia. A second animal was similarly killed in the area two weeks later, but testing proved it was a wolf-dog hybrid.

The WDFW is leading the investigative fieldwork on the now confirmed wild gray wolf pack in the Methow. The agency decided to trap and take DNA samples of the canines heard howling in the Methow Valley and sent the DNA samples to the University of California-Los Angeles Conservation Genetics Resource Center. 

DNA tests showed that the wolves originated from a population in the northern British Columbia and Alberta provinces of Canada.

"This is a natural colonization," said Fitkin. "The wolves are naturally immigrating."   

Fitkin and his team will continue to monitor the movements of the collared wolves and wolf pups as they move around the summer rendezvous area.

"I've been waiting for this for 18 years," said Fitkin, who said he was very excited by the findings of the investigation. Fitkin has been involved in wolf research in the North Cascades since 1991.

Anyone with concerns about wolves may contact Fitkin at 996-4373.

Read Conservation Northwest's press release >>

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Comments

Sean Stevens

Darn those Washingtonians. They're always trying to outdo us here in Oregon.

Don't forget that Oregon wildlife officials also recently heard wolf howls that confirmed the first breeding pair of gray wolves in our state in over 60 years.

Check it out: http://www.oregonwild.org/about/press-room/press-clips/first-wolf-pack-in-oregon-confirmed-in-a-century

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