Sunday, December 13, 2015

Hard to predict where next wolf pack will form in Washington

Where in Washington will the next wolf pack show up?
The Colockum has a lot of elk. The Entiat Valley, northwest of Wenatchee, has plenty of deer and forest in which to hide. There’s more than 2,000 square miles of wild country and a plentiful prey base from Easton and Cle Elum south through the Norse Peak and William O. Douglas Wilderness areas, all the way to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Will one of those places be next?
Or will it be even closer to Yakima? The professional tracker whose photos and video led to November’s confirmation of the state’s 17th and newest pack, thinks that possibility is no less likely than any other.
“I have no idea where a pack will show up next,” said David Moskowitz, the Okanogan-based photographer/tracker who captured the initial photos of the Loup Loup Pack on a trail camera he set up near a deer carcass.
While the bulk of the state wildlife department’s wolf focus is north of Interstate 90 — where all four of the Cascades-based packs are located — Moskowitz is working with Conservation Northwest to seek out possible wolf movements south of I-90.
“We’ve got cameras all the way from just south of I-90 running down not quite to the Columbia,” Moskowitz said.
Their primary focus areas, though, are within the Naches and Cle Elum ranger districts and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
What about the Colockum, home to some 5,000 elk? In fact, with that kind of a prey base, why aren’t wolves there now?
“That’s a good question,” said Trent Roussin, one of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s two statewide wolf biologists.
“We kind of expect them to show up anywhere there’s good habitat. If there’s good habitat and no wolves there — but there are wolves nearby — we expect them to show up there.”
The caveat about an existing pack nearby may be the most telling part. Since the Lookout Pack became the state’s first established pack in 2008, others have typically set up near existing packs.
Each of the 12 packs in the northeast quarter of the state is within 40 miles of one or more packs. The Teanaway Pack, discovered in 2011, was followed two years later by the Wenatchee Pack just to the east. The Tucannon Pack, straddling the Washington-Oregon border in the Blue Mountains, abuts the range of another pack, the Walla Walla, which is managed as an Oregon pack.
The Lookout, Washington’s first pack, was believed to have the North Cascades to themselves until this year. But, said Winthrop-based state wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin, there have been reported sightings and wolf tracks “going back maybe five years” in the Loup Loup area, which stretches between the Okanogan and Methow valleys.
Moskowitz’s initial photos of a single wolf and his later video footage clearly showing four wolves led to the official pronouncement of the Loup Loup Pack — so named for the old mining town that once existed there. The name is fitting: The mining town was believed to have been so named by Hudson’s Bay trappers for the multitude of wolf pelts they took from the area. (In French, loup means wolf.)
So the Loup Loup Pack established its territory very near an existing pack. Will the next pack will do the same?
“It’s anybody’s guess,” said Donny Martorello, the state wildlife department’s wolf policy lead. “We tend to see a couple of different scenarios.
“One is we tend to see new packs form near existing packs and spread out from there, which makes sense. Dispersers meet up with dispersers from other areas or packs in close proximity to where there are other wolves.”
The other scenario is dispersing animals meeting up far from any existing wolves, as was the case with the Lookout Pack. “That’s why you never know,” Martorello said.
Moskowitz doesn’t believe the Colockum is next — even with its prey base and its proximity to the Teanaway and Wenatchee packs.
Along with its plentiful prey, he said, the Colockum “has a huge road density as well. Open road systems with a human population that doesn’t like wolves is a challenging situation for the wolves.
“I’d really expect we do get wolves in there every so often. Whether or not we could get a persistent pack in there is probably a factor of human behavior rather than wolf behavior.”