By Ann McCreary
Last summer’s wildfire appears to have taken a toll on Lookout Pack gray wolves, leaving only one surviving pup from this year’s litter.
“The fire burned over what we thought was the original den or another den or rendezvous site,” said Scott Fitkin, a wildlife biologist with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
A research team studying interactions between wolves and cattle over the summer believed that prior to the fires there was more than one pup, although they were unable to document how many there might have been, Fitkin said. The average litter is four to six pups, he said.
As a result of the fires, the researchers “think we lost all but one pup,” Fitkin said last week.
“It looks like this pack will not qualify [under the state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan] as a breeding pair this season,” Fitkin said.
The Lookout Pack was one of five packs in Washington considered to have a “successful breeding pair” last year. The state’s plan for gray wolf recovery defines a successful breeding pair as “an adult male and an adult female with at least two pups surviving to Dec. 31 in a given year.”
One Lookout Pack pup is known to have died as a result of the fire because researchers working in the field found its remains near what appeared to be a burned-over rendezvous site.
The researchers found fur and bones, which led them to believe that the pup died in the aftermath of the fire rather than in the fire, because the remains would not have survived the severity of the fire.
Based on observation and photos from wildlife cameras, the Lookout Pack is believed to now include four adult wolves and the one surviving pup, Fitkin said.
A yearling female from the Lookout Pack was captured and collared earlier this year as part of the state’s wolf monitoring program, and to assist researchers from Washington State University who spent time in the field last summer studying the interaction of wolves and cattle in the Methow Valley and elsewhere in the state.
Unfortunately, Fitkin said, the collared female wolf “seems to be the omega or outcast of the group — a lot of time she is not with the pack,” and therefore doesn’t provide consistent location data for the pack.
The first gray wolf pack documented in Washington in more than 30 years, the Lookout Pack had up to 10 members in 2008, but was decimated by poaching until only the breeding pair and one yearling survived in 2009. The breeding pair, which were collared in 2008, had both disappeared by 2011.