New genetic tests have verified that a canine found dead on a road northwest of Spokane last month was a pure gray wolf.
A second road-killed animal found slightly farther west about two weeks later was a wolf-dog hybrid, genetic tests determined.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) sent tissue samples from both road-killed animals to the University of California-Los Angeles Conservation Genetics Resource Center to determine whether they were wolves. The California lab recently developed DNA-sequencing techniques to genetically distinguish gray wolves (Canis lupus) from wolf-dog hybrids or domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). The genetic make-up of wolves and dogs is so similar that previous tests were unable to distinguish the two. Wolf and dog DNA differs by only two-tenths of one percent (0.2%).
“These new genetic tests promise to greatly assist us in the future management of gray wolves,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings, adding that WDFW’s genetics laboratory is investigating adopting the same genetic-testing approach in the future to support the state’s upcoming Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
The wolf carcass was discovered June 5 by a Washington Department of Transportation (DOT) crew along State Route 291 near Tum Tum in Stevens County, about 25 miles northwest of Spokane. DOT staff contacted WDFW to retrieve the carcass.
The wolf-dog hybrid was struck by a car June 21 on State Route 25 north of Davenport in Lincoln County, about 40 miles northwest of Spokane. The driver contacted the county sheriff, who contacted WDFW.
Other genetic tests on the animal killed on State Route 291 showed its DNA was similar to that from wolves in northwest Montana and southern British Columbia.
Gray wolves last spring were removed from federal endangered species list in the eastern third of Washington, as part of a recovered Rocky Mountain wolf population in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The wolf de-listing is being challenged in federal district court by conservation groups. Gray wolves remain listed by the state as an endangered species throughout Washington.
WDFW Endangered Species Program Manager Harriet Allen said verification of a road-killed wolf is not surprising because individual wolves are sighted periodically in northeast Washington.
“We expect wolves from Idaho, Montana, eastern Oregon or Canada to disperse to Washington,” Allen said.
Verification of the wolf-dog hybrid is also not surprising, Allen said.
“Unfortunately, some people attempt to raise wolves and wolf-dog hybrids in captivity,” Allen said. “Wolf-dog hybrids can be dangerous because they lack the shyness of wild wolves, but they have the physical strength and predatory instincts of wild animals.”
Wolf-dog hybrids complicate gray wolf management in a number of ways, including attacking livestock in incidents that are mistakenly blamed on wild wolves.
Pet wolves are prohibited by state law (RCW 16.30.030), although wolf-dog hybrids are excluded from that ban and remain regulated as domestic dogs. Most Washington counties have dog-control regulations and some counties and cities prohibit wolf-dog hybrid ownership because of potential safety problems.
WDFW is drafting a Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, with the help of a 17-member citizen working group. The draft plan is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/. After scientific peer review this year, a final draft plan will be circulated for public comment early next year.
No established wolf breeding pairs or packs have been documented in Washington since the 1930s, although WDFW and federal officials are currently working to locate and radio-collar wolves in Okanogan County, where recent howling surveys indicate a pack may exist.
Reports of possible wolf sightings or activity can be made to a toll-free wolf reporting hotline at 1-888-584-9038.