Something killed a lamb and several chickens on Heather and Mike Vincent's small cattle operation in Snoqualmie a few weeks ago. They called in the local game warden to take care of what they thought was a bear.
But Heather later came across a picture taken by one of their neighbors' wildlife cameras. It was a big, black animal, but didn't look like a bear, rather it looked remarkably like a wolf. A few days after that, the Vincents received word that a wolf-like animal had been hit and killed just a few miles away on I-90.
There's now evidence a new predator may be moving in to Western Washington: the grey wolf. "Of course it concerns us. We've seen what they've been doing in Idaho and what they will do when they want to kill for food or for fun," Heather said. (Lin's note: Heather obviously doesn't know anything about wolves).
Still, some state and federal wildlife managers say there is no hard evidence of wolves living west of the Cascades. So they don't yet have a plan for managing them in this part of the state. "It's more like passive management, if you will," said Eric Rickerson, State Supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington. "We'll just have to see how wolves disperse here in Western Washington. There will be conflicts and we'll have to manage through those as those arise."
Others admit it is highly likely the wolves are already here. "Absolutely," said Dave Ware, Wolf Policy Lead for the State Department of Fish and Wildlife. "A wolf can and will move hundreds of miles in search of finding a mate and setting up a territory. It would be expected, at this point, that we've got at least single wolves moving around in Western Washington."
Grey wolves are no longer considered an endangered species in Eastern Washington, but they are still protected elsewhere in the state. That makes lethal measures by individuals or state agencies a violation of federal law.
Ware said the state is currently working on a plan that would include a list of non-lethal measures they could take to deal with any wolves that might threaten people or livestock in Western Washington. He hopes to have that plan in place sometime this summer.
In the meantime, Ware has some advice for protecting yourself and your pets. If you encounter a wolf, try to appear as large as possible. Don't run and don't look the wolf in the eye. Slowly back away from the animal.
Keep your pets as close to you as possible, especially at night as wolves are nocturnal hunters.
Dogs are a special concern because they are seen as a direct threat to a wolf's territory. Dog owners are advised to keep their pets on a leash.
For animals too big to be brought inside at night, keep them penned as close to your house as possible. Ware also advises electrifying the fencing around pens and pastures whenever possible.
You can find more information about wolves in Washington here.