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State's fourth wolf pack identified in Teanaway area

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By Scott Sandsberry
Yakima Herald-Republic

"Because of these types of stories," said Mitchell Friedman, Conservation Northwest's executive director, "it was clear the Teanaway was something to check out." Bellingham-based Conservation Northwest had been reading anecdotal reports of wolves in the Teanaway on hunters' blog-sites for at least two years.

State's fourth wolf pack identified in Teanaway area

Photo courtesy of Conservation Northwest A wolf was photographed in the Teanaway area of Kittitas by this remote camera. This images, and similar ones, began an investigation by state and federal agencies to confirm the presence of wolves in the area.

CLE ELUM, Wash. -- State wildlife managers have been finalizing Washington's wolf management plan, knowing wolves would be moving in from neighboring states and Canada and taking residence here sooner or later.

It turned out to be sooner. And right here.

On Tuesday, federal and state authorities announced the presence of a fourth Washington wolf pack, and it's just up the road in Kittitas County. The Teanaway Pack -- named for the rugged, wooded country north of Cle Elum and west of U.S. Highway 97 -- became official when DNA testing confirmed that a suspected wolf that was radio-collared early last month by state biologists was indeed a wild gray wolf.

And it was a lactating female -- meaning she was nursing pups. The pups have not been seen or located, and the total number of wolves in the pack has yet to be determined.

But they're out there somewhere.

"I didn't know about the DNA tests, but it's not unexpected that we'd have wolves in the Teanaway, because at some point they were going to disperse down the Cascades," said Bob Tuck of Selah, a former state wildlife commissioner and a member of a 17-member citizen panel helping draw up the state's wolf management plan.

"It was only a matter of time. I guess I'm surprised it's so soon."

There were already three verified, established Washington packs -- the Lookout Pack in the Methow Valley, discovered in 2008, and the Diamond and Salmo packs in Pend Oreille County in the state's northeast corner, leading state officials to estimate the state's resident wolf population at 25. But Bellingham-based Conservation Northwest had been reading anecdotal reports of wolves in the Teanaway on hunters' blog-sites for at least two years.

"Because of these types of stories," said Mitchell Friedman, Conservation Northwest's executive director, "it was clear the Teanaway was something to check out."

In cooperation with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Conservation Northwest last year installed remote, motion-sensor cameras in the Teanaway. By September 2010, the remote cameras had captured still photos of what appeared to be at least one wolf. But because the Teanaway has been known to have wolf-dog hybrids -- bred as exotic pets -- state wildlife biologists were determined to find out what they had.

A trapper contracted by the state captured the lactating female wolf, which was then radio-collared, and tissue samples were sent to the University of California-Davis for testing. The news that it was a wolf -- and, because of its circumstances, obviously one with cubs -- was big news indeed.

"It's surprising how soon they showed up here," said Anthony Novack, a deer-and-elk conflict specialist with the state wildlife department who has done extensive wolf research in Idaho. "It actually knocks my socks off to know that not only are they here, but they've paired up and they're already breeding this soon after finding the Lookout Pack."

But the Teanaway, Novack said, would be a natural draw for wolves, with "a prey base there all winter long including elk and mule deer."

State wildlife officials did not say Tuesday whether the DNA indicated where the female wolf had originated. Some speculate she might have come from the Lookout Pack, which lost two of its members to poaching in 2009; a third member -- a breeding female -- disappeared earlier this year under what state wildlife authorities have called "definitely suspicious" circumstances.

"When we got the DNA back on Lookout, we knew instantly about the ancestry," Friedman said. "So I'm assuming we're going to hear an interesting family-tree story soon about Teanaway."

Having wolves confirmed in this part of the state for the first time in at least six decades, Tuck said, "points up the challenges that we face in terms of management of this species. They're in Central Washington, and hopefully the wolf management plan will be adopted in the not-too-distant future so we have the tools as a society to manage the species."

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to vote in December on the state's management plan, created by the wildlife department and its citizen panel.

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