This wolf pup was photographed by a remote camera near the Lookout Pack’s rendezvous site southwest of Lookout Mountain on Aug. 9. Photo courtesy of WSDFW, USFS and Conservation Northwest

This wolf pup was photographed by a remote camera near the Lookout Pack’s rendezvous site southwest of Lookout Mountain on Aug. 9. Photo courtesy of WSDFW, USFS and Conservation Northwest

Aug. 14, 2009 

By Joyce Campbell

A visitor to the valley was the first to sight three gray wolf pups and wildlife biologists have confirmed that the Lookout Pack is raising at least a trio with the help of a “babysitter.”

“There’s one,” said Barbara Mattingly, an earth science teacher from Indiana who was visiting family members in the area. She saw some motion out of the corner of her eye and came eye-to-eye with a half-grown wolf pup about 50 feet away.

Mattingly was gazing into the eyes of the offspring of Washington’s first confirmed wolf pack in more than 70 years. The wolf pup was calmly looking back.

“They were very calm and we were very calm, and they were very well camouflaged,” said Mattingly. The pups moved from left to right within 30 seconds and quickly disappeared into the camouflage of the forest before either of the pair of humans could get any good photos. “It looked at me, stared at me right in the eye. Each one stopped and stared at us and walked away into the woods. It was the coolest thing ever.”

Mattingly had hoped to see the print of a wolf track when she and a Forest Service wildlife field biologist went out on July 30 to set up a remote sensor camera to try and capture images of the pups. A howling survey a day earlier confirmed the presence of an undetermined number of pups, and cameras have only picked up photos of single pups.

“We had guessed there were three from the howling response,” said state wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin. The Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Forest Service and the citizens’ organization Conservation Northwest have been collaboratively monitoring the Lookout Pack since spring of 2008.

A third adult wolf is confirmed to be traveling with the pack. A wolf howl was heard with the higher pitched howls of pups during a time when the radio-collared adults were out of the rendezvous area, presumably hunting, according to Fitkin. Pups are typically left at a rendezvous site with a babysitter, which could be a wolf from a previous year’s litter of pups or any other member of the pack.

The alpha male and female were trapped and radio-collared with the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in July 2008. Radio-telemetry from ground and air, remote sensor cameras, ground tracking and scat analysis have been used to follow and collect information about the wolf pack, including their six pups from last year.

By winter’s end, only three wolves remained in the pack, confirmed by visual sightings, radio surveys, photos and ground tracking. Wolf pups typically suffer 40 to 50 percent mortality from natural causes, according to wolf specialist Bill Gaines with the Forest Service. He said he was disappointed by the apparent survival of only one of the pack’s six pups.

This year, Gaines led a team of researchers collecting data from the denning site after the wolves moved on to a nearby rendezvous site in the Lookout Mountain area southwest of Twisp.

“It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, but we got lucky and walked right into it,” said Gaines. He said the well-concealed den had three different ways in and out of an underground chamber. The crew collected puppy scat for DNA analysis to determine a minimum number of pups and what they had been eating.

The year-round territory of the pack covers 350 square miles, said Gaines. It might be different this year due to the lack of snow in the Sawtooths.

“These wolves could easily travel 30 to 40 miles in a day,” said Gaines. He said as people get out and hike he expects to get more reports of hearing and seeing the pack.

“They are still around the low elevations of their range,” said Fitkin. He said there are indications that the pack is starting to move to the higher elevation of their summer range, following the migrating mule deer herds.