Have you ever heard a wild wolf howling in the night? This possibility is now real again in Washington for the first time since the 1930s. But my brief wolf story starts just over 15 years ago: With unconfirmed reports of gray wolves in Washington’s central Cascades in the early 1990s, it was time to get real proof. During the summer of 1993 I volunteered to participate in a wolf survey for the U. S. Forest Service’s Cle Elum Ranger District.
Based on sighting reports, a very enthusiastic Forest Service wildlife biologist trained a group of willing hikers/tree huggers (self included) in wolf survey protocols. On six weekends spread over the summer, we camped above a remote, larch-filled canyon on Table Mountain above Ellensburg and took turns howling for wolves at different designated “stations” along the rim.
Yes, wolves do howl back to humans if you can fake a good howl. We didn’t get any responses that summer, but I still remember vividly the excitement of the possibility. I loved those warm summer nights. We hiked through subalpine forests to our howling stations, sometimes with just the full silver moon illuminating our way.
Fast forward 16 years. There are now two confirmed breeding pairs of wolves in Washington—one pack is now in the Okanogan region of north-central Washington (the Lookout pack), and another is in the northeast corner of the state (the Diamond pack). These animals have found their way back to Washington 70 years after being decimated by bounty hunters.
Last night I attended a public hearing at REI’s Seattle flagship store on the recently released Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement. The place was packed! Being Seattle, the crowd was heavily pro-wolf, but sprinkled here and there were a few hunters wearing old baseball caps and a few ranchers in HUGE cowboy hats. Did sparks fly?
Yea, a little bit. But we Northwesterners are generally a well-behaved bunch who prefer to avoid conflict. The hearing was one of several around the state sponsored by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who drafted the plan. Anyone and everyone were invited to take their turn and speak for a few minutes about the plan. I was too shy to take the microphone, but comments ranged from heartwarming fluff to substantive biologist opinions to impassioned and angry cattlemen who think any wolf is one too many. “If you’ve ever seen a baby calf that’s been torn apart by a wolf or coyote, it isn’t a pretty sight,” cried one rancher. “We work hard to raise these cattle. If I see a wolf attacking one, I’m going to do something about it.”
“I’ve seen wolf-kill, and it isn’t pretty,” said a woman later, who grew up on a ranch. “But,” she added “a slaughterhouse isn’t too pretty either.”
What YOU Can Do
The upshot of my rambling is this: Biologists I know tell me the plan’s recommendation of 15 breeding pairs to remove legal protection of wolves is not enough to sustain a healthy population. Most ranchers and hunters want a lower threshold. I'd like to think we can have a healthy wolf population and have it work for hunters and ranchers. If you want to see a healthy wolf population back in Washington, comment online here by January 15, 2010. Be as specific as you can when you comment. Wolves are native to the Northwest. They help restore balance to heal a damaged ecosystem, as evidenced in Yellowstone. Help heal the wolf population with your comments. Thanks for caring!
The lone wolf photo above was taken by Gary Kramer of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The wolf pups are from the Lookout pack and that photo was taken from Conservation Northwest's webcam.