Salmon researcher is safe after encountering wolves near den site

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Salmon researcher is safe after encountering wolves near den site

A state fire crew retrieved a U.S. Forest Service salmon researcher in Okanogan County yesterday after she climbed a tree to avoid a wolf that was displaying behaviors that she considered threatening.

The incident response involved several state, federal, and local agencies, including the state departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office. A DNR fire crew extracted the researcher in a helicopter dispatched through a multi-agency fire center in Colville, while WDFW enforcement personnel were preparing to hike to the scene.

WDFW Acting Director Joe Stohr said the incident took place in a region of the state in which wolf recovery and management actions are led by USFWS, because gray wolves are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. USFWS is leading a follow-up investigation into the incident and agencies’ response.

Stohr said it appears the researcher was close to a wolf denning site or rendezvous area, and that it is common for wolves to bark, howl, and approach people or other animals when protecting their pups. He said some initial reports stated incorrectly that the researcher was in a developed campground. In fact, the site is several miles from either a designated campground or maintained road.

“We are relieved that the researcher was brought out of the area safely,” Stohr said. “We’re still working to confirm details of the incident, but the most important element is that she was unharmed.”

Stohr said when WDFW staff in the area learned of the situation, they quickly assessed various response options and supported the decision by USFWS that the helicopter operation was appropriate.

WDFW wildlife managers in April identified the area where the encounter took place as a likely denning site for the Loup Loup pack, which includes at least one adult female and one adult male. The department notified USFS officials in the region at that time.

Here is information shared on Friday, July 13, by USFWS:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is pleased at the successful rescue of the individual, and commends the quick action of our partners in their rescue efforts.

On July 12, 2018, a seasonal U.S. Forest Service employee completing research surveys in the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest encountered two adult gray wolves from the federally listed endangered Loup Loup pack.

The individual was safely extracted, uninjured, by helicopter from the location the incident occurred.

Prior to the incident, the individual observed wolf tracks and heard yipping and barking for a period of time before the wolves approached.

After unsuccessful attempts to scare the wolves away (including yelling, waving and deploying a can of bear spray in the direction of the wolves) the individual climbed a tree and used a radio to call for assistance.

A Loup Loup pack den site is in the vicinity of the site where the incident occurred, and GPS collar data from the early morning of July 12 shows at least one adult wolf from the Loup Loup pack in close proximity to the area where the incident occurred.

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists believe the location is a “rendezvous” site, and the wolves were likely acting in a defensive manner to protect offspring or food sources. Rendezvous sites are home or activity sites where weaned pups are brought from the den until they are old enough to join adult wolves in hunting activity.

USFWS and WDFW biologists will continue to monitor the GPS collar data for the two adult wolves and will hike into the site on July 13 to further investigate.

Gray wolves are currently listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in the western 2/3 of Washington. The USFWS is the primary agency responsible for managing wolves in the federally listed area, and coordinates closely with WDFW to implement the state’s Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

Packs referenced in this update