Wolves on track: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Dan Russell received signals from the Lookout Pack using a VHF radio receiver and antenna last week. The elusive and far-ranging wolves are believed to have returned to lower elevations of the Methow Valley, following deer herds, their main food source. Photo by Joyce Campbell

Wolves on track: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Dan Russell received signals from the Lookout Pack using a VHF radio receiver and antenna last week. The elusive and far-ranging wolves are believed to have returned to lower elevations of the Methow Valley, following deer herds, their main food source. Photo by Joyce Campbell

Nov. 12, 2008

By Joyce Campbell

After a summer roaming the high ridges of the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness, the state’s first confirmed pack of wolves in 70 years has returned to their rendezvous territory in the Lookout Mountain area of the Methow Valley.

Forest Service and state wildlife biologists have been tracking the Lookout Pack using VHF radio receivers that pick up signals from the pair of radio-collared wolves in the pack.

Their last location was picked up on Monday (Nov. 10), when Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Dan Russell picked up a strong signal on the ground. Subsequent ground searches have not picked up any signals, according to John Rohrer, Methow Valley Ranger District biologist. A flight is planned for later this week if ground searches are unsuccessful.

“We hope they settle into an accessible area like Lookout, where we can locate them once a week or more,” said Rohrer. The biologists would like to backtrack the wolves in the snow and get data on a regular basis.

“This time of year they are moving to follow the deer,” said Bill Gaines, Forest Service biologist and wolf species lead for Oregon and Washington. He said their behavior depends on when the deer settle, which depends on when and how much snow comes. “If they behave like other wolves, in December, January and February they’ll settle into a winter range, but where, we don’t know.

Depending on funding, the agencies will look at snow tracking, where they go, and what they eat, said Gaines. When snow tracking, biologists can pick up scat and analyze it to see what they are eating. A lab at the University of California in Los Angeles can look at DNA and get information on other members of the pack.

The two agencies have been collaborating with ground and air searches for the wolves since the animals were trapped, collared, and released on July 18 near Lookout Mountain. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Conservation Northwest have also been cooperating with monitoring and collecting data on the pack. The conservation group’s remote cameras photographed six pups believed to be the offspring of the pair of collared wolves.

The Lookout Pack is the first confirmed wild wolf pack in Washington state since the 1930s. DNA samples connect the pack with wolves from British Columbia and Alberta, and biologists said they have naturally immigrated, dispersing from larger wolf populations in Canada.

The state has developed a draft wolf conservation and management plan in anticipation of the wolves moving into Washington. The plan is being reviewed by scientists and will be available for public comment in January 2009.

The draft Washington Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan plus facts and information on the wolf and how to report sightings may be viewed at www.wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/diversity/soc/gray_wolf/.