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Originally published July 22, 2011 at 4:46 PM | Page modified July 22, 2011 at 10:52 PM

Biologists confirm a fifth wolf pack in Washington

For the second time in a month, a new wolf pack has been found living in Washington, this one in the state's northeast corner.

Seattle Times environment reporter

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For the second time in a month, a new gray-wolf pack has been found living in Washington, this one in the state's northeast corner.

Biologists with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed the existence of the state's fifth wolf pack after they caught, tagged and released a young pup. Ranchers in Stevens County had reported earlier this summer seeing two adults and three new pups and hearing howling.

The discovery comes on the heels of an announcement two weeks ago that a breeding female wolf had been collared in the Teanaway drainage north of Interstate 90, about a 90-minute drive east of Seattle. DNA tests have since revealed that the female wolf in the Teanaway River Valley descended from the Lookout Pack in the Methow Valley, which in turn descended from wolves in British Columbia.

"This is just the time of year when it's easy to spot wolves," said Rocky Beach, with Fish and Wildlife. "Females are in the den having pups, and males or other wolves may be out hunting and coming back to a rendezvous site."

The newest pack has been named the Smackout Pack, after a nearby mountain pass.

Washington's first pack, the Lookout Pack, took up residence in Okanogan County in 2007 or 2008, but that pack since has been devastated by several poaching incidents. The adult female is missing and presumed dead.

The Diamond and Salmo packs are also in Northeast Washington, not far from where the new wolves were found. It's not yet clear whether the Smackout Pack wolves made its way to Washington from Idaho and the Rocky Mountains, or from British Columbia.

Beach said teams of biologists hope to get back in the field later this summer to try to attach a radio collar to the adults in the pack, so the government can keep an eye on their movements. Pups can't be radio-collared "because they're still growing," he said.

While all of Washington's wolves are protected as state endangered species, only wolves west of Highway 97 are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Wolves in the most eastern portion of the state are considered part of the Rocky Mountain wolves that were removed from federal protection earlier this year.

Fish and Wildlife is putting the finishing touches on a plan to manage the state's wolf populations. The effort has been controversial among some ranchers and hunters, who fear allowing too many wolves to reside in the state could wreak havoc on livestock or elk and deer populations.

The plan will be presented in two weeks to the commission that oversees management of state wildlife.

Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or cwelch@seattletimes.com

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