Wolf sightings in the Blue Mountains are becoming more frequent this summer, but wildlife officials for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have yet to document firm evidence of a pack forming in the southeastern corner of the state.
Paul Wik, district biologist for the department at Clarkston, said the canyons and timbered ridges southeast of Dayton have been a hot spot for wolf reports this year. Some hunters have even captured images of wolves with trail cameras, he said.
"It's definitely no secret they are here," Wik said. "The only question to us is what their status is."
Wik and others at the department have been expecting wolves from Idaho or Oregon to locate in the Washington portion of the Blue Mountains for the past few years. Last year, a female wolf, wearing a radio collar from Oregon's Imnaha Pack, was detected in the Washington portion of Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area. It spent about a week there and then returned to Oregon.
Last winter, another radio-collared female from Oregon was detected in the Tucannon River drainage. The signal from the radio collar she was wearing disappeared in March and biologists don't know if she left, died or the collar failed.
The department has received reports of wolves from the public and recently began hearing of two wolves running together. Wik said the animals won't be considered a pack until evidence of denning or reproducing is uncovered. If biologists were able to document an adult male and female with pups it would mark the sixth wolf pack in the state.
"It's a matter of time before we are fully involved in wolf management," Wik said.
Two additional packs are living on the Oregon side of the Blues and likely move into Washington on a regular basis, Wik said. The Wenaha Pack dens in the Oregon portion of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area, and the Walla Walla Pack dens in the Mill Creek Drainage.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission continues to work on a wolf management plan for the state. A recommendation from the department and a 17-member wolf working group would set a population goal at 15 breeding pairs distributed across three recovery zones. A minority report from the wolf working group wants the goal set closer to 10 and also wants a ceiling set on the population. The commission is expected to approve a final version of the plan by the end of the year.
It is believed there are five wolf packs in Washington. Wolves in all of Washington are protected by the Washington Endangered Species Act and those in the western two-thirds of the state are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.
(c)2011 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)
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