Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why Wolves?

My passion for wildlife management began with wolves in 1995 with their reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park (and the wolf-hybrid pup we had for a few days before taking it back when my parents realized what had to be done to keep it).  We later got a Siberian Husky puppy, which in a child's mind, is close enough to a wolf!

But I digress....

As much as a ten year old can, I followed the news of wolf reintroduction and watched all the documentaries.  I knew every wolf in the Sawtooth pack - had their pictures in my room and a wolf shirt that I absolutely adored and wore regularly.  I remember going to Wolf Haven and thinking it was the best thing in the world to learn how to howl.  Wolves had captured my imagination and set forth in motion the desire to be a biologist, to work with wildlife in an urbanizing world.

When my family got into horses, and my dad in particular took an interest in BLM "wild" horses, I switched interest to the controversial management of free-roaming horses on federal lands.  This topic has held my interest since 2005.  It had been my plan to continue studying them for my graduate research, but since BLM horses are not near Washington state and those running on tribal lands are not easily accessed, I settled on another topic.  Although cattle grazing and sage grouse are also a controversial subject, it did not hold my interest nearly as well.  On top of that, the amount of work that was required to gather the vegetation data I needed to make a solid thesis was nearly impossible with my crazy life as a single mother to two children.

Que in to the wolf's return to Kittitas Valley and surrounding areas.  Although sightings of wolves and hearing howls had been documented since the 1970s (thought to be wolves dispersing into Washington from Canada), it wasn't until 2008 that the first fully documented breeding pair was discovered in the northern cascades.  They were the first known pair in over seventy years for Washington.  A momentous occasion. They were the Lookout Pack, located in Chelan county.  Through natural dispersal, wolves came from Canada and possibly from those reintroduced into Yellowstone.  This pack was documented to have a territory of 350 square miles between the years 2008 and 2010.  By June 2011, another pack, recent descendants of the Lookout pack, was located in north-central Kittitas County.  This is the Teanaway Pack.

One hundred years ago, there was a bounty on the wolf's head.  They were nearly eliminated in the United States.  Now, thirty years since they were listed as endangered and twenty years since they were reintroduced into Yellowstone, they are numerous in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho.  Washington state itself has ten confirmed packs.  The state goal before ESA delisting is 15 successful breeding pairs for three consecutive years.   These canine carnivores are close neighbors to ranchers, hunters, hikers, and other residents in Kittitas Valley.

The Teanaway pack, and now the recently discovered Wenatchee pack are the focus of my research.  As stated in my first post, my research is to discover how residents feel about their new neighbor.  Given my previous thesis topic, this one is a sensitive and heated controversy.  The wolf debate takes me back to why I was so interested in the free-roaming horse conflicts.  Wolves are teetering on potential management conflicts in Washington.  It was stated by a WDFW biologist that we can expect another Idaho incident (I have yet to delve into those issues) here in Washington over the next ten years.  As a Resource Management graduate student, I am very interested in where we go from here.

What are your thoughts?  Are you afraid of them?  Do they fascinate you?  Do you want them here?  Want them gone?  Do you favor the three S management (shoot, shovel, shut up)?  Do you feel they have a place in our ecosystem?  Given this is my research, I would love to hear your opinion. You may comment below.  For your privacy,  feel free to comment anonymously.

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