Dec. 2008

By Joyce Campbell

John Rohrer has been searching for five months for the gray wolf pack known as the Lookout Pack. He heard them before he saw them. “They saw me first,” he said. “They barked at me.”

Around midday on Thursday (Nov. 11), Rohrer, a Methow Valley Ranger District biologist, was searching for a radio signal from two radio-collared wolves when he heard them barking and howling. He looked across the drainage to a steep, forested slope and in a small opening in the forest saw seven wolves, with an eighth wolf vocalizing from nearby forest cover.

“It was great,” said Rohrer, who has been part of a collaborative team of federal and state wildlife biologists and conservation groups gathering information about the first confirmed wild gray wolf pack in Washington state since the 1930s.

“It was pretty memorable,” said Rohrer. “I got to watch them for quite a while.” Rohrer estimated that he was about one-third mile away from the wolves when he spotted them. He said he observed them for about half an hour through binoculars before they filed off into the woods.

Rohrer had flown over the area in an upper drainage of the Twisp River in the Lookout Mountain area that morning, and radio telemetry equipment had picked up signals from both wolves. They were together and in an area that might be accessible from the ground. After returning to the smokejumper base, Rohrer drove and then hiked more than a mile when he was spotted by the wolves.

The encounter was the first time the Forest Service biologist had seen or heard the pack. He has been helping to track the pack since a male and female wolf were each live-trapped, radio-collared and released on July 18. On the same day, a Conservation Northwest citizen wildlife monitoring team using a remote sensor camera captured the images of six wolf pups a few miles away.

“They are definitely moving,” said Rohrer.

The day before Thanksgiving, Forest Service biologists tracked the pair of wolves from a fixed-wing aircraft to the Little Bridge Creek area, on the north side of the Twisp River Valley. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife monitoring from the ground two weeks earlier located the pack closer to Lookout Mountain, on the south side of the Twisp River Valley.

The wolves will settle near the valley floor when the snow drives their prey – primarily mule deer and smaller mammals – down to lower elevations, according to Scott Fitkin, the WDFW biologist working on the monitoring effort. “From everything we know, they were here all last winter with no conflicts. They’ve been very well-behaved.”

The state has developed a draft wolf conservation and management plan that is currently under review by scientists. The draft plan will be available for public comment in June 2009. The draft plan, facts and information on the wolf and how to report sightings may be viewed at www.wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/diversity/soc/gray_wolf/.