Wednesday, December 09, 2015

New Wolf Pack in Washington State

 curious member of the Lookout Pack, credit: High Country News
Washington state now has its seventeenth wolf pack that moved into the state from Idaho and Montana.  Once again nature proves that if given half a chance, it will restore balance to the land. The new pack has taken up residence near the towns of Twisp and Omak in Okanogan County. Federal and state wildlife officials confirmed the pack's location after a flurry of wolf sightings from the public. They will attempt to collar a pack member this summer in order to follow their travels. A least six wolves are estimated to be traveling together. The state recently counted a minimum of 68 wolves, up from 27 just four years ago. Recovery obviously depends on human reaction to their presence; gray wolves are protected by the state east of Highway 97 and federally protected in the western two-thirds. Nevertheless, at least a half dozen wolves have been poached since 2012.

It is encouraging to note that some ranchers are taken a proactive approach to potential conflicts.  Range riders are helping to track wolves and livestock to get  more reality-based data on clashes between wolves and livestock. Undeniably the natural return of the wolf after decades of persecution has opened up a deep political divide in Washington. A survey conducted by the Washington wildlife department found that almost two-thirds of respondents favored wolf recovery, but the same survey showed those supporters are from the liberal corridor along the Interstate 5 corridor.

The rural, conservative east side of the state are where the wolves now live and people are more ambivalent about their presence. Washington's wolves had to cross hundreds of miles of agricultural land to reach the dense forests of the south central Cascades where elk still roam. In order to help the wolves reach undeveloped areas where they are at least tolerated, state wildlife officials have placed emphasis on non-letha control methods such as subsidizing the ranger rider activity, guard dogs and and other methods. But only 14 ranchers have signed on to the program. Wolves are still killed by Washington state if they are confirmed to be cow killers. It takes at lot less for private citizens to resort to killing wolves. As one cattleman from Stevens County put it, " I don't like them [wolves] and I think the state has too many of them." State biologist think there will not be enough wolves--15 breeding pairs for at least three consecutive years--in the state until 2021 to remove them from the endangered species list. Meanwhile, trigger fingers are getting very itchy.