Alison Morrow , KING
Washington’s first wolf to be trapped and collared with GPS west of the Cascade range is now being monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The male gray wolf is estimated to be between two and three years old. He was trapped near Marblemount on June 8.
Officials took blood samples for analysis to determine where he might have come from and what wolves are his closest kin. It will take about three months to get those results.
“They can give hope and indication that, if we’ve made mistakes in the past, if we’ve made a mess, that we can recover. Wolf recovery is a nice indication of that,” said Defenders of Wildlife NW Regional Director Shawn Cantrell.
It is still unknown if this wolf calls Marblemount his home range yet, or if he is what’s called a “dispersing animal,” which means a wolf that’s left another pack and is roaming in search of a new territory. Typically the latter disappears from an area within a few weeks.
However, there are several reasons to believe this wolf may be settling down.
“Multiple tracks in the snow and in the mud along the river, howling activity. We’re hopeful we’ll see confirmation there is in fact a pack and maybe even pups,” Cantrell said.
Right now, the closest documented wolf packs are the Lookout pack in the Methow Valley and the Teanaway pack near Cle Elum. A few wolves from the Teanaway pack moved north toward Darrington a couple of years ago.
Wolves are considered apex predators, a category of wildlife that faced heavy hunting from humans a hundred years ago for fear they pose a constant threat to livestock and humans. More recently, scientists have come to better understand the important part wolves and other predators play in their ecosystems.
“They play an important role in regulating ungulates which are elk or deer. They weed out the sick or injured. They help keep deer or elk moving so they don’t over-browse in a location which allows vegetation to grow up which brings in song birds, which provides shades for salmon habitat. It’s all very much what we learned about the food web. Wolves play a very important part in that,” Cantrell said.
There are no confirmed wolf packs in Washington west of the Cascade mountains. Wolves have divided the east side and west side of the state, often over controversy about management after attacks on livestock.
“We’re hopeful that as they are dispersing in Western Washington that we will be able to learn from some of the conflicts and challenges that have happened in eastern Washington and in other states,” Cantrell said.