New wolf pack confirmed — a short drive from Seattle
Biologists have confirmed a new wolf pack has taken up residence in Washington state — this one not far from Cle Elum, Kittitas County, near the Teanaway River.
Seattle Times environment reporter
Northwest Travel Guides
It's not exactly where the experts thought wolves would show up next.
But state biologists confirmed Tuesday that a new pack of gray wolves has taken up residence in Washington state — this time not far from Cle Elum, about 90 miles east of Seattle.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently trapped one of the animals near the Teanaway River and took tissue and hair samples. DNA tests confirmed the animal is a female gray wolf and had been lactating, indicating she recently gave birth to pups.
While individual wolves may have been spotted in that area for years, it's the first documented evidence that an entire pack has returned to Kittitas County since wolves were exterminated in the first half of the 20th century.
"It knocks my socks off that we have a breeding pair this far from our other documented packs," said Anthony Novack, a carnivore biologist with Fish and Wildlife.
The new wolf group, dubbed the Teanaway Pack, is the fourth in Washington and is located in the upper Teanaway River basin north of Cle Elum and west of Highway 97.
The nearest pack, the Lookout Pack, formed in 2007 or 2008 in the Methow Valley outside Twisp, Okanogan County — more than 100 miles to the north. That pack has been so devastated by poaching that it may no longer exist.
Biologists had presumed wolves forming new family groups simply would leapfrog their way down the Cascades, setting up home bases in the closest areas with good food. But gray wolves are highly mobile and easily can travel 100 miles in a day.
And, of course, nature is unpredictable.
"Wolves are going to do what wolves are going to do," said Rocky Beach, another biologist with Fish and Wildlife. "That's wildlife for you."
It's not that the Teanaway is a rough place for wolves to survive. It's not. The area is isolated, heavily forested and rich with elk and mule deer.
"Wolves need abundant food and lots of security, and the Teanaway has both," said Mitch Friedman, with the environmental group Conservation Northwest, which helped confirm the pack's existence.
Nor does it mean the wolves will be headed west next.
"Does this mean we'll have a wolf pack next year around Mount Adams? Or around the north fork of the Snoqualmie River? Maybe," Friedman said. "But I'd be a little surprised if wolves showed up closer to Seattle any time soon."
Wolf prey simply isn't as plentiful on the west side of the Cascades along Interstate 90, he said.
In fact, deer and elk hunters were the first to report seeing canines too big to be coyotes in the forests of the upper Teanaway. Reports increased dramatically last summer and fall, and volunteers with Conservation Northwest captured several photos with a remote camera of what appeared to be a wolf.
Marc Fairbanks, who lives near the Teanaway's mouth, said he's seen wolves nearby for years. But it wasn't until turkey hunters came through this spring that he knew officials likely would confirm something.
"Every one of those hunters had a story about seeing wolves," he said.
Last month, after hunters reported seeing groups of several carnivores with pups, a team of state biologists headed into the woods and began following tracks and scat. They eventually trapped the female wolf, took samples and attached a radio collar.
"It's really surprising that they would be here next," Novack said. "But wolves are like that. They go a long ways."
The arrival of the Teanaway Pack comes as the state is working to finalize a management plan for wolves — and as the same conflicts that followed wolves in the Rockies have begun to emerge in the Northwest. Livestock owners and some hunters fear the predators will kill too many deer and elk or cattle.
Jack Field, with the Washington Cattleman's Association, said he sees the appearance of new wolves as good news and bad. Their increased presence raises the ire of his constituency, but every new wolf makes removing state and federal protection for wolves likely to come sooner.
"The question now is, does the state have ability to manage these wolves?" he said. "I guess we'll see."
It's not clear how many wolves are in the Teanaway or whether they are related to animals in British Columbia — like those in the Methow Valley — or wolves from the Rocky Mountains, like those found in the Salmo and Diamond packs in the northeast corner of the state. Results of additional DNA tests should help explain where the wolves are from — and how they likely got there.
Later this summer, department biologists will use signals from the collar to try to locate the wolf's den site and determine how many adults and pups are in the pack.
Craig Welch: 206-464-2093
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