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WA: Wolves wouldn’t let woman leave Washington forest

A 25-year-old researcher told a Fish and Wildlife officer that she tried to walk away, but a wolf cut her off.

Don Jenkins
Capital Press

The U.S. Forest Service employee rescued from wolves in north-central Washington climbed a tree twice to get away from a barking and howling wolf that cut her off when she tried to walk away, according to a report by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The second time up, the 25-year-old woman called her boss on a satellite phone and “informed him that she did not think the wolves would allow her to leave,” according to Fish and Wildlife officer Justin Trautman’s report.

The woman “observed the wolf appear several times and howl in the distance,” Trautman reported. “Once in the tree, she waited for help to arrive.”

The Fish and Wildlife report, obtained by the Capital Press, describes the July 12 confrontation between the woman and the Loup Loup pack in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Officials say she was researching salmon habitat and apparently did not know she was walking into the heart of the pack’s summer territory.

Fish and Wildlife had told a Forest Service biologist that the pack was there, but the woman was from a Utah-based program that surveys habitat on federal lands and did not check in with the ranger district, forest spokeswoman Debbie Kelly said.

Efforts to reach the woman were unsuccessful.

The Capital Press is withholding her name. State lawmakers require Fish and Wildlife to withhold the names of ranchers who report conflicts with wolves to protect their privacy and shield them from threats.

The Fish and Wildlife report confirms previously released records that show department employees initially wanted to escort the woman out of the area by foot rather than risk disturbing federally protected wolves with a helicopter. This is a sensitive time of year for wolves, according to the report. The woman was at the pack’s rendezvous site, where pups stay for the summer until they are old enough to hunt.

The department eventually consented to letting a Department of Natural Resources helicopter crew make a 14-minute flight from Omak to rescue the woman. The crew reported seeing two wolves run away as the helicopter approached and landed in a meadow. Reaching the woman by ground would have taken two to three hours, officials estimated.

According to Fish and Wildlife, the woman said she saw wolf tracks and heard barking and howling as she walked into the area. She then saw a wolf cross a stream and come toward her.

She had a “face-to-face interaction” with the wolf while on a phone talking to her boss, who told her to climb a tree, according to the report.

After 10 to 15 minutes, she climbed down and walked about 300 feet before she was cut off by a wolf. She said she thought it was the same wolf. “The wolf approached her as she took steps backwards and was very vocal towards the wolf,” according to the report.

The wolf was about 15 meters away and “darted in several times” as the woman deployed pepper spray. The spray did not reach the wolf. She “continued to scream at the wolf a final time. It backed off and she re-climbed the tree,” Troutman reported. She “stated the interaction was approximately 30 seconds long.”

Troutman reported that he is familiar with the area and was confident he could find the woman. He reported trying to call her while she was in the tree, but she later told him that she turned off her phone to save the battery.

DNR emergency dispatcher Jill Jones urged reluctant wildlife managers to use a helicopter to rescue the woman, according to previously released DNR records. Jones said no one could tell whether the woman was safe in the tree.

The woman scratched her legs climbing the tree, but did not need medical attention.