Loup Loup Pack confirmed by wildlife officials
By Ann McCreary
The Methow Valley is now home to two gray wolf packs, with a new pack confirmed to be living in territory that includes Loup Loup Pass.
State and federal wildlife officials last week confirmed the presence of the gray wolf pack and said it will be designated the Loup Loup Pack, reflecting the prominent landmark within the wolves’ range.
Wildlife officials also said last week that they are no longer receiving signals from a GPS radio collar on the breeding female of the Lookout Pack, the valley’s other wolf pack. Officials said they don’t know if the collar malfunctioned, or if the wolf died or was killed.
The female was captured and fitted with a collar last June, but the collar stopped transmitting data Oct. 20, said Scott Fitkin, a biologist with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in the Methow Valley.
“Collars fail. That’s one possibility,” said Fitkin.
The new Loup Loup Pack is believed to include several members, said Scott Becker, wolf specialist for WDFW.
“Right now it looks like at least six individuals,” Becker said Monday (Nov. 30).
For a few years people have reported wolf sightings and evidence of wolves in the area now confirmed to be Loup Loup Pack territory, Becker said.
“We did get some good sighting reports a couple of months ago … and were able to document signs of multiple individuals up there. We put out a few cameras but it wasn’t until the snow started flying that we were able to follow tracks out,” Becker said.
WDFW and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to monitor the new group over the winter and will attempt to capture and fit one of the wolves with a radio collar next summer to monitor the pack, the agencies announced last week.
WDFW conducts an annual wolf pack survey each winter, which confirmed 16 wolf packs in Washington at the end of 2014. Only three packs were confirmed in the North Cascades and the rest in eastern Washington. The Loup Loup Pack brings the number of wolf packs in the North Cascades area to four.
Gray wolves are protected throughout Washington under state law as an endangered species, and will remain protected until the population reaches goals outlined in a state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
They are also protected as endangered under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state, which includes the Methow Valley.
Gray wolf packs typically range across a territory of about 300 square miles, Becker said. And they often travel very long distances to find mates and begin new packs.
“With the capability of wolves to disperse and find each other, the wolves that started that [Loup Loup] pack could have come from Montana or British Columbia,” Becker said.
The new pack “is probably ranging from the Methow to Okanogan” valleys, Fitkin said. “It’s not surprising to see a pack establish near the Lookout Pack.”
There is no evidence that the collar on the Lookout Pack female stopped transmitting because the wolf was poached or otherwise harmed, Becker said.
“We have no way of knowing because we don’t have a dead wolf in front of us,” he said.
“We have a 20 percent failure [collar] failure rate,” Becker said. The collars are expected to last about 18 months before their batteries wear out, he said. The collar had been placed on the Lookout Pack female about four months before it stopped transmitting.
The collars are designed to emit a “mortality signal” if the collared animal stops moving, so that wildlife officials can try to locate the animal. The collar on the Lookout female never gave off a mortality signal, Becker said.
“There’s a high probability that that animal is still alive and doing well,” he said.
Uncertain about Lookout Pack
It is unclear how many wolves are now in the Lookout Pack, according to wildlife officials. Fitkin said he conducted a howling survey in the Lookout territory in late summer, and received howling responses from what sounded like “a minimum of three or four pups.”
Becker said wildlife officials might try to collar another Lookout Pack member next summer.
Last winter, the Lookout Pack was believed to have four members — two adults, one pup and one juvenile wolf between one and two years old.
Under the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list after 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among three designated wolf recovery regions in the state.
A successful breeding pair of wolves is defined as an adult male and an adult female with at least two pups surviving to Dec. 31 in a given year.
Because the Lookout Pack had only one surviving pup last year, the Lookout wolves were not considered a successful breeding pair. The remains of one pup were found in an area burned over during the Carlton Complex Fire in July 2014. It was unknown what happened to other pups, if there were any.
Biologists aren’t sure how many wolves are in the Lookout Pack at this time, but estimate two to four adults and an unknown number of pups. If the pack does not have both a breeding male and female this year, it would not qualify as a successful breeding pair, even if there were multiple pups.
The Lookout Pack had up to 10 members in 2008, the year it was confirmed as the first gray wolf pack in Washington in more than 30 years. Over the next year the pack was decimated by poaching, until only the breeding pair and one yearling survived in 2009.
The breeding pair, which had been collared in 2008, had both disappeared by 2011. The Lookout Pack, named for Lookout Mountain, travels through a territory estimated by biologists at about 350 square miles extending roughly from Black Canyon in the south to Little Bridge Creek in the north.