By Michelle McNiel World staff writer
WENATCHEE — Two wolves photographed by a remote camera Sunday just south of Wenatchee are the first evidence of a wolf pack in Chelan County in recent history.
The camera captured images of two wolves near an elk carcass in Pitcher Canyon, about six miles south of Wenatchee.
State biologists believe one of the wolves is the same female photographed in the Entiat Valley last month.
“Right now we’ve got two wolves in the same location and that meets our definition of a wolf pack,” said Dave Volson, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The pack has officially been named the Wenatchee Pack. There are nine other confirmed wolf packs in the state, including in the Methow Valley, and two additional suspected packs.
The closest known wolf pack is the Teanaway pack near Cle Elum. The female wolf had been a member of that pack.
“To be honest, these wolves may have existed there (in Chelan County) for more than a year,” he said. “We’ve been getting reports here and there of people having seen a wolf or tracks or hearing howls.”
But the first photographic evidence that a wolf was in Chelan County came late last November, when someone captured video images of a lone wolf on a remote trail camera in Pitcher Canyon. State biologists confirmed that it was a wolf.
There were no other sightings of a wolf in the county until the female was photographed in the Entiat Valley last month, Volson said.
Then early last week, Volson’s office got a call from a Pitcher Canyon resident who found a dead elk in an irrigation pond on his property and what appeared to be wolf tracks all around it.
Volson went out to look at the elk and confirmed that the tracks were made by a wolf or wolves.
He said he wanted to determine if the elk had been killed by the wolves. So he took the carcass to a training session on wolf predation that had coincidentally been planned for the next day in Ellensburg. A team of state experts examined the elk’s body looking for evidence of it having been killed by a wolf. Volson said wolves have “incredibly strong jaws” that cause crushing injuries to the tissue when they bring down an animal.
He said a necropsy of the elk revealed that it had not been killed by a wolf or any other carnivore.
Instead, the elk had blunt injuries that could have been caused by a severe fall or being hit by a vehicle, he said. Its jaw was dislocated and its teeth were loose. He believes the animal died of other causes in the pond and was then feasted on by the wolves.
While investigating that elk death, Volson said he was contacted by another resident of Pitcher Canyon who had captured a remote-camera image of a single wolf two days before the elk’s body was found.
Volson confirmed through pictures that the animal was a wolf.
Then the owners of the property where the dead elk was found located a second dead elk last week and set up a remote camera over the carcass, Volson said. They called him on Sunday to report that the camera had captured images of two wolves.
“It’s the first documentation that we’ve had multiple wolves in Chelan County,” he said.
He said the markings on one of the wolves appears to be exactly the same as the wolf seen in the Entiat Valley, about 30 miles away from Pitcher Canyon. The wolf has tags in her ears that were put there by state biologists when she was a pup.
Volson plans to begin surveying for the wolves this week. He said it was not possible to tell from the recent pictures whether the female was pregnant, so he doesn’t know if the pair has established a den in the area. Wolves typically give birth in mid-April, he said.
Volson said that as wolves re-establish themselves in this state, his department has been working to educate people on potential encounters with the animals. After being wiped out as a breeding population in Washington in the 1930s, wolves have been making a comeback in the state since about 2005 because of wolf recovery efforts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Since 2008, wolf packs have established themselves in Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Kittitas and Stevens counties.
“What we’re trying to do is give people information about what it means to have wolves back in the landscape again,” he said.
Wolves are not known for attacking humans, he said, but they do attack other animals. Volson said he has warned residents in the area that wolves are very territorial and will perceive dogs as a threat.
“They look at dogs as another canid in their territory,” Volson said. “So when people are out in that area, they should be aware and keep their dogs close.”
But people should not be overly fearful of the wolves, he added.
“They tend to be inquisitive or move away from people,” he said. “Often they will stand and look at people when seen. Very rarely do they present a threat to humans.”
As a biologist, Volson said he is interested in observing the re-establishment of wolves in Washington.
“But wolves bring along a lot of strong feelings,” he said. “It’s a species that people don’t tend to have a middle ground on. … So from our point of view, we are trying to balance and meet the needs of people relative to wolves being back.”I