A two-year search for wolves in Washington’s South Cascades came up empty, a scientist said July 8.
Researchers tested the DNA of thousands of scat piles sniffed out by dogs. Many piles looked like wolf droppings, but all turned out to be from dogs, said Samuel Wasser, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology.
“I feel the likelihood of wolves being there is pretty low,” he said.
If wolves are in the South Cascades, they are lone wolves, he said.
“There’s no way there’s an established pack,” he said. “We would have picked that up.”
State lawmakers funded the study in part to learn how far west and south wolves have advanced in Washington. Recovery won’t be complete until at least four packs are producing pups in the South Cascades, according to the state’s wolf plan.
“They are moving in very, very slowly, if at all,” Wasser said.
House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Brian Blake said he was surprised wolves weren’t found.
“I believe they’ve got to be there,” he said. “I’m hearing so many anecdotal reports from hunters bumping into them.”
With the help of dogs, researchers collected about 2,400 scat samples from carnivores, such as bobcats, coyotes and black bears, between Interstate 90 and the Columbia River. Wasser said he expected to soon send a report on what he found to Fish and Wildlife.
The search for wolf scat in the region will resume for a third year this month. Even if no wolf droppings are found, the study will show the distribution and diet of other carnivores, Wasser said. The information will be useful to see how wolves eventually change the South Cascades, he said.
While wolf packs have apparently not settled in the South Cascades, packs have saturated northeast Washington, according to Fish and Wildlife. Four packs have attacked cattle this year, according to the department.
Blake, a southwest Washington Democrat, said he doesn’t want Fish and Wildlife to import wolves into the South Cascades to speed up recovery.
“I don’t think there’s a role for translocation,” he said. “It’s my personal position that there are an adequate number of wolves to delist the entire state at both the state and federal level.”
Washington had at least 145 wolves at the end of 2019, according to a combined count by Fish and Wildlife and the Colville Tribes. Wolves are on the state endangered species list and federally protected in Western and Central Washington.