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Editorial: Wolf pack no surprise for many

By Editorial board
The Ellensburg Daily News

People have reported wolf sightings in Kittitas County for years, but search in Kittitas County started with reports from citizens and state and federal agency personnel. Remote, motion-triggered cameras were set up by several agencies and private groups, and images were captured on camera by the group Conservation Northwest.

People have reported wolf sightings in Kittitas County for years, but on Tuesday, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife made it official by confirming the state’s fourth wolf pack lives here.

The search in Kittitas County started with reports from citizens and state and federal agency personnel. Remote, motion-triggered cameras were set up by several agencies and private groups, and images were captured on camera by the group Conservation Northwest.

From there, state biologists caught, collared and released an adult female wolf. The University of California-Davis confirmed the animal was wild gray wolf through DNA testing.

The pack is called the Teanaway Pack, and it is the fourth known in the state.  The state’s three other packs are the Lookout Pack in Okanogan County, and the Salmo and Diamond Packs in Pend Oreille County.

Before the Teanaway Pack was confirmed, WDFW estimated Washington had 25 resident wolves. Biologists think the Teanaway Pack has four adults and several pups. An accurate reading of the pack’s range won’t be available for some time.

The discovery of the Teanaway Pack indicates that wolves are returning to Washington naturally, WDFW director Phil Anderson said.

The return of predators has raised intense discussion throughout the West.

The gray wolf is protected throughout Washington as an endangered species. The animal is federally protected in the western two-thirds of Washington under the Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to harm or harass a federal or state-protected endangered species.

There’s no doubt the topic of wolves is an emotional one. A father and son from the Methow Valley were charged in June with illegally killing at least two wolves and conspiring with another family member to smuggle a wolf pelt to Canada. They pleaded not guilty last week in federal court.

The debate came to Ellensburg last month, when a 17-member citizen group that is working on a state wolf conservation and management plan had a work session here. The plan will be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in August. The state has received more than 65,000 comments.

The draft plan calls for 15 breeding pairs for three consecutive years before the animals can be delisted in Washington. Some hunters and ranchers say the number is too high; others say the number is too low.

In Oregon, wolves may be considered for statewide delisting when there are four breeding pairs in three consecutive years.

The discovery of the Teanaway Pack in Kittitas County will not come as a surprise to anyone who has spent time in the backcountry around here. Residents have definite concerns about how resident elk populations fit into the picture. Concerns about livestock also are front and center.

WDFW urges landowner or ranchers with problems with wolves to contact its staff for a consultation. Wolf sightings and activity should be reported through a joint federal-state hotline at 888-584-9038.

While the debate over wolf management will be with us for some time, we have a solid answer to at least one question: yes, there is a wolf pack in Kittitas County.

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