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WA: Agencies watch for first Western Washington wolfpack

Federal and state biologists are watching a male wolf in Western Washington to see whether he has a traveling companion

Don Jenkins
Capital Press

State and federal biologists may learn in the next few weeks whether Western Washington has its first pack since wolves began recolonizing the state a decade ago, a state Department of Fish Wildlife official said Monday.

WDFW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trapped a male wolf June 8 in Eastern Skagit County. The wolf, the first captured west of the Cascades in decades, was fitted with a GPS collar and released.

If he stays in the area, it will suggest he’s found a mate, WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said.

“These next two weeks will tell us what we’re dealing with,” he said.

A Western Washington wolfpack would be a significant advancement in the state’s goal to have wolves settle throughout Washington. Currently, all 20 packs are east of the Cascades, with 15 concentrated in four northeast Washington counties.

Ranchers and public officials in those counties say they already are overrun by wolves, but the animals will remain a state-protected species until wolves have also colonized the North and South Cascades. Wolves are not a federally protected species in the eastern one-third of Washington, but they are in the western two-thirds, including where the wolf was captured.

Martorello said wildlife managers don’t know where the wolf came from, but it most likely migrated westward across the state, rather than from Canada. He said more wolves will move west as the packs grow in Eastern Washington.

“This will become more common,” Martorello said.

USFWS spokeswoman Ann Froshchauer said the agency will test genetic samples from the wolf and may be able to trace it origins. The tests are expected to take two to three months to complete, she said.

In the meantime, the radio collar will help wildlife managers position trail cameras to photograph the wolf, and possibly a traveling companion, Martorello said.

A Skagit County resident reported May 17 that one or more wolves were preying on his chickens and sent photos to USFWS.

A WDFW wildlife-conflict specialist went to the residence that day and concluded the chickens were probably attacked by one or more wolves.

The next day, state and federal biologists set traps and saw what appeared to be a wolf in the distance. Three weeks later, they trapped the wolf.

“As of right now, we can only confirm the one animal that was captured and collared,” Froshchauer said.

In 2015, a female wolf that had crossed the Cascades and was within 30 miles of Seattle in eastern King County was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 90. Last year, a wolf wearing a GPS collar crossed the mountains into Eastern Snohomish County, but the collar stopped transmitting.