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News of nature rebounding

Posted by Mitch Friedman at Jul 15, 2009 02:25 PM |
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My 17-year-old nephew, Kevin, was spending the week with Uncle Mitch to get him a break from the crazed adolescent behavior of my brother and sister-in-law in Chicago. Always concerned about growth in our region, I did my best to show him how ugly and insufferable is the Northwest, especially in summer. He faced encounters with swollen rivers, hikes through jungle-height devils club and salmonberry, no-bite fishing, camping among mosquitoes, meals of live crabs, and even soaking in unsanitary hot springs. If those didn’t chase him off, the spine-chilling howls of savage canids surely must have.

News of nature rebounding

For Kevin, Jessie, and Carrie - the next generation - wolves howling were the highlight of a wilderness trip. Photo by Mitch Friedman

I could make a pretty good argument that life is nothing more than a series of awe-inspiring wildlife encounters. Last Thursday night, my daughters, nephew, and I had one of our best of those encounters. We spent part of last week in the Methow Valley and had an opportunity to join state and federal biologists checking in on the Lookout Pack.

Like you, I’ve been eager for news of our resident wolves. It was this time last year that Conservation Northwest remote cameras captured pictures of pups to document the first pack in our state in three quarters of a century. Then this winter we had the awful news that a poacher had killed at least two of the wolves. In recent weeks, signals from her radio collar indicated that the lead female had stopped moving, indicating that she might be having another litter. When her signal started to move again last week, it was time for the biologists to see if the pups had been moved from the den to a rendezvous site, a resting area for the pack and the pups as they mature.

With Scott Fitkin from the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Ray Robertson from the Forest Service (and a Conservation Northwest remote camera volunteer), we drove up a forest road a mile or two from where they pack was suspected to be. As we got out of our vehicles at 8:15 pm, just as light was fading, we immediately heard a chorus of howls and pup yelps that Scott interpreted as pre-hunt vocalization, heart-warming news that the pack was alive and well, with a new set of pups this year!

Hand-held radio antennae revealed that the female then moved down-valley, likely to hunt, while the lead male's signal was apparently out of range. The biologists still wanted to know whether any additional adults remain in the pack, so we quietly proceeded up the road in the direction of the rendezvous. At about 8:45, Scott let out howls that would have made Paul Winter jealous. Before he could even finish, the pack erupted with a set of yelps from pups too numerous to count, backed up by the distinguished howl of an adult remaining with the litter. You can hear that amazing chorus on our You Tube channel.

I have had the great fortune of some amazing wildlife encounters in my life. At age 13, I watched a moose graze in a mist-shrouded northern lake. I have twice met martens on the trail, seen several grizzlies and one wily wolverine, swam with a basking shark and leatherback turtles, pulled tiger hair from a scratch tree in Siberia, and even had the privilege of watching the release of the first fishers in the state since the Great Depression. Three times before I have seen wild wolves loping across the landscape, but never before had I heard them.

My heart melted. Everything Aldo Leopold wrote about the wolf howl is true, especially when those howls carry news of nature rebounding, like the return of the Lookout Pack and its second year of pups surely does. If ever I could forget that sound, I assure you I won’t lose the faces of my daughters and nephew as they filled with the wonder of wild nature.

[Hear the pups howl]

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wolves inspire wildness of heart

Posted by Jodi at Jul 17, 2009 01:59 PM
I'm so glad your daughters and nephew had the pleasure of sharing this profound experience with you, Mitch. More wolves in Washington excite me about future wilderness in the Columbia Highlands as well hope for a wild future all throughout Washington. I'm so excited to spend time in Yellowstone to experience wildlife in a different, but no less inspiring, landscape this fall!

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