By Ann McCreary
State wildlife officials replaced a GPS collar on a gray wolf in the Loup Loup pack earlier this month as part of an ongoing effort by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to monitor and study wolves throughout Washington.
Using a helicopter on Feb. 8, WDFW biologists darted the Loup Loup pack wolf with an immobilizing drug in order to capture him. They replaced a collar that was placed on the wolf in 2016 with a new GPS collar, said Ben Maletzke, statewide wolf specialist for WDFW.
The captured wolf is the breeding male of the Loup Loup pack, and was seen with the pack’s breeding female, which also has a collar. No other Loup Loup pack wolves were spotted, Maletzke said.
The male was examined, and his health was evaluated by biologists. “He was an older male, getting up in years. He seemed to be doing OK, a little bit underweight,” Maletzke said. A wolf his size would be expected to weigh 95-100 pounds, but the wolf was 89 pounds.
The Loup Loup pack wolves were located through signals emitted by their collars. Because the male’s collar was almost 2 years old, the battery was likely to die before long. “We wanted to get that one switched out,” Maletzke said.
Biologists had also hoped to collar a wolf in the Lookout pack, which currently has no collared animals, but were not successful in locating any wolves. “We had a ground crew that found a track from the previous day, but the day of the flight we weren’t able to find them,” Maletzke said.
Placing collars on wolves helps wildlife managers keep track of wolf packs throughout the state, Maletzke said. In the case of the Loup Loup pack, the collars are also essential for an ongoing research project conducted by WDFW and the University of Washington that is examining how the presence of wolves affects other wildlife species. “This pack overlaps the research project,” Maletzke said.
The GPS collar on the Loup Loup male can be programmed to provide location data remotely via satellite several times a day. The female of the Loup Loup pack wears a VHS collar, which has a longer lifespan, and emits a signal that is located using a receiver and antennae.
Maletzke said he is gathering data for the state’s annual status report on wolf packs in Washington, which is usually released in March. Last year’s report, which surveyed the 2016 wolf population, estimated that there were 20 packs in Washington that year. The report estimated that the Loup Loup pack had up to eight wolves at the end of 2016, and the Lookout pack had three members.
The Lookout Pack, named for Lookout Mountain, was first documented in 2008 and was the first wolf pack found in Washington in more than 30 years.
The pack had up to 10 members in 2008, but 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.
Gray wolves, virtually eliminated from western states in the last century, are protected under state law as an endangered species throughout Washington and are managed under a state recovery plan. They are listed as endangered under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state, which includes the Methow Valley.