Loup Loup pack, one of newest identified, has at least 6 wolves
By Ann McCreary
The Loup Loup gray wolf pack, confirmed last November, is one of four new packs identified in Washington last year as part of an annual survey of wolves throughout the state.
Named for its territory around the Loup Loup Pass, the pack is believed to have at least six members including a breeding male and female.
The Methow Valley’s Lookout Pack, first identified in 2008 and the state’s oldest known wolf pack, is believed to have three members but for the second consecutive year does not have a successful breeding pair of wolves.
According to the wolf survey conducted by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the state was home to at least 90 wolves, 18 packs and eight breeding pairs at the end of 2015.
That is an increase over 2014 estimates of at least 68 wolves, 16 packs and five breeding pairs.
In addition to the Loup Loup Pack in Okanogan County, new wolf packs were confirmed in Ferry, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties.
The state’s wolf management plan defines a pack as two or more wolves traveling together in winter. A successful breeding pair is defined as an adult male and female with at least two pups that survive to the end of the calendar year.
Last year was the first increase in the number of breeding pairs since 2011, said Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf policy lead.
The Lookout Pack’s breeding female was captured and fitted with a radio collar last June, but the collar stopped transmitting in October. Wildlife officials don’t know if the collar malfunctioned, or if the wolf died or was killed.
Despite their growing numbers, wolves were involved in fewer conflicts with livestock last year than in 2014, Martorello said. WDFW officials determined that wolves from four packs were responsible for killing a total of seven cattle and injuring one guard dog in 2015. In 2014, wolves killed two cattle and 28 sheep, and injured another two cattle, six sheep and one dog, according to WDFW.
Researchers conducting the survey found no evidence of the previously documented Wenatchee Pack, and the Diamond Pack in Pend Oreille County shifted its activity to Idaho and is no longer included in Washington state totals.
The survey found that seven wolves died in 2015. Three were killed legally by hunters on the reservation of the Spokane Tribe, which authorizes the harvest of up to six wolves per year by tribal members.
The four other deaths included one wolf killed in a collision with a vehicle, one shot in self-defense by a property owner, and one that died during an attempt to capture it. One wolf’s cause of death is unknown, according to WDFW.
The estimated minimum number of wolves grew by 32 percent last year, despite the seven wolf deaths. Since 2008, when the Lookout Pack was identified as the first pack in Washington in more than 30 years, the population has increased by an average of 36 percent per year, according to WDFW.
“Wolf populations in Washington are steadily increasing, just as we’ve seen in the upper Midwest and Rocky Mountain states,” said WDFW Director Jim Unsworth.
“This increase — and the wolves’ concentration in northeast Washington –underscores the importance of collaboration between our department, livestock producers, and local residents to prevent conflict between wolves and domestic animals,” Unsworth said.
“The fact that Washington’s wolf population increased by a third, yet livestock-wolf conflicts decreased, shows the state’s work to help ranchers use non-lethal control methods is paying off,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“But ongoing state protections are needed to make sure this encouraging trend continues until wolves reach more sustainable levels,” Weiss said.
WDFW promotes preventive actions to minimize wolf attacks on livestock and domestic animals, Martorello said, including making wildlife conflict specialists available to work with residents of communities where wolves are present.
The department has also adopted a range rider program to provide increased human presence in grazing areas, and offers cost-sharing agreements for ranchers to help them reduce expenses for preventive measures.
Unsworth said WDFW expanded public involvement in wolf conservation and management last year by doubling the size of the department’s Wolf Advisory Group to 18 members. The department also initiated a “conflict transformation” process to improve working relationships among the advisory group members, the groups they represent, and WDFW.
The wolf survey was conducted using aerial surveys, remote cameras, wolf tracks and signals from 22 radio-collared wolves from 13 different packs.
Twelve wolves were fitted with radio collars during the year, and one pup was marked and released without a collar due to its small size. By the end of the year 11 wolves were being monitored.
Because of the difficulty confirming the presence of every single wolf, survey results are expressed in terms of the minimum number of individuals, packs and breeding pairs.
Under the state management plan, wolves can be removed from the state endangered species list when 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among three designated wolf recovery regions.
Fifteen of the 18 known packs are in the Eastern Washington recovery region. The North Cascades recovery region, which includes the Methow Valley, has three packs. The Southern Cascade and Northwest Coast region has no packs.
Gray wolves, virtually eliminated from western states in the last century, are protected under Washington law throughout the state, and under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state, including the Methow Valley.
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. Named for Lookout Mountain, the Lookout Pack 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.