A gray wolf pup recently trapped and radio-collared near the Canadian border in northeast Washington indicates the state may be home to a third breeding wolf pack.
A wolf specialist hired by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife caught the 50-pound young wolf earlier this month in northern Pend Oreille County, just south of the Canadian border. Attempts are under way to locate and radio-collar adult wolves in the area.
The presence of the pup, and photos of other wolves captured on a remote camera in the area, indicate there is a pack in the area, said Harriet Allen, who heads WDFW's endangered-species section.
"We don't know at this point whether the den where the pup was born was in Washington or British Columbia," Allen said. "We plan to monitor the pack next spring to determine the den location. If the den is in Washington, the pack can be considered a Washington pack; if the den is in British Columbia, it is a Canadian pack. Our Canadian colleagues are aware of wolf activity in that area, and will assist with monitoring on their side of the border."
A successful breeding wolf pack is documented by locating a breeding pair of adults with two or more pups that survive until Dec. 31, Allen said.
Washington's first documented wolf pack was found in July 2008 in western Okanogan County. By December 2009 that pack, named the "Lookout Pack," included seven animals -- two adults, a 2-year-old wolf and four pups born in 2009.
"The status of the Lookout Pack is uncertain at this time," Allen said, adding that WDFW has been unable to locate the female wolf since mid-May. The male is still being monitored and no new pups have been found.
Washington's second documented wolf pack was found in July 2009 farther south in Pend Oreille County. Two adult wolves in that pack produced six pups in 2009 and six this year. At least four of the pups born in 2009 survived until the end of the year. The pack moves between Washington and Idaho.
Allen said there also may be a wolf pack in the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area of the Umatilla National Forest in southeast Washington, although wolves have not yet been confirmed there. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife radio-collared a yearling wolf south of the area in Oregon earlier this year.
"We know from reports that individual wolves have been roaming in and out of the state in various locations for years," Allen said, "but documenting and maintaining packs as successful breeding pairs is necessary to achieve conservation objectives and move toward eventual removal of the gray wolf from state and federal endangered-species lists."
The gray wolf was eliminated from Washington as a reproducing species by the 1930s as a result of trapping, shooting and poisoning, and later was listed for both federal and state protection as an endangered species.
Gray wolf populations in nearby Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have rebounded in recent years as a result of federal recovery efforts in the northern Rocky Mountains. In 2009 gray wolves were removed from the federal endangered-species list in those areas and the eastern third of Washington, but earlier this year a court decision returned them to federal endangered status.
Since 2007, WDFW has been drafting a gray wolf conservation and management plan with a 17-member citizen working group composed of ranchers, hunters, conservationists and others. Public review and scientific peer review of the draft environmental impact statement and plan was conducted last year and earlier this year.
WDFW is now addressing the public and scientific comments on the draft plan, to develop a second draft for review with the working group. A final Environmental Impact Statement and recommended plan is scheduled to be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for review next year.
More information about wolves and the WDFW plan process is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/