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Colville Tribes Receive Grant for Innovative Wolf-Monitoring Program

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Wolves on the Colville Reservation in northwestern Washington are getting a closer look thanks to a $187,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The reservation has a land base of 3.1 million acres. Limited funding and personnel makes keeping track of wolves and wolf packs difficult, so this grant will aid tremendously. A lot of the focus will be monitoring the location of wolves.

RELATED: Colville Tribes Manage Wolves With Own Program

The grant also allows them to hire an additional biologist, said Randy Friedlander, who heads up the program. The new position will be filled by Justin Dellinger, a Ph.D. candidate with experience in wolf, cougar and deer research.

“The grant also allows us to get assistance with completion of writing our wolf management plan,” Friedlander said.

Monitoring includes DNA sampling from scat. This can identify individual wolves and numbers of animals within each pack. It can also tell what food is being consumed and gauge consumption rates on such animals as moose, elk, and deer.

RELATED: Video: Wolves Transform the Rivers in Yellowstone National Park

Other research includes tracking and howling surveys, use of remote cameras, and trapping and collaring. Old collars about to expire are being replaced. They help locate packs and track locations of individual animals. This helps determine home ranges, den locations and kill sites.

Hunting seasons are established, but to date no wolves have been harvested. Friedlander said numbers don’t appear to have changed in the past year, with still two confirmed packs and a couple of suspected packs. Trapping efforts this summer will focus on collaring more adults from the Nc’icn Pack and any new packs that are located. The public is encouraged to report any wolf sightings by calling 509-722-7681.

Washington’s first wolf pack in 70 years was documented in 2008, and the state now has 13 confirmed packs and a minimum of 52 wolves. Nine of those packs are in northwestern Washington, including on the Colville Reservation. The animals are still protected in western Washington but can be managed in eastern Washington.

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RELATED: Eighth Wolf Pack in Washington State Moves It Further From Endangered Status

Much attention has been given to wolf research and management throughout the western states, where wolf populations have dramatically increased in recent years. Montana reported a verified count of 147 packs in 2012. Game Management Bureau Chief George Pauley said they expected a similar count for 2013.

“There is a policy decision currently to reduce the number of wolves in Montana,” Pauley said. “We’re accomplishing that with hunter harvest.”

Montana is doing DNA analysis from every wolf that authorities can get their hands on and has a joint understanding with Idaho and Wyoming for similar work in those states.

“Wolves disperse phenomenal distances,” Pauley said. “You might see genetic signatures from all over heck.”

Wyoming has had a wolf hunt the past two years. Their season is structured somewhat differently than Idaho and Montana. Most wolves in Wyoming are located adjacent to Yellowstone N.P. The area is divided into managed units and wolves are treated like any other trophy animal. When the allotment of wolves is taken in any managed unit, hunting ceases in that unit. In 2012 the quota for those units was 50 wolves and in 2013 that quota was reduced to 27 wolves.

In about 85% of Wyoming wolves are considered a predator with no closed season and no wolf license required, but the wolf population is very low and no kills have been reported.

Idaho also has a big population of wolves. At the end of 2012, 117 packs had been documented, a decline of 11 percent from the prior year. The Nez Perce Tribe also works with the state in monitoring wolves. In addition there are 23 so-called border packs in Montana, Wyoming and Washington whose ranges overlap into Idaho.

Hunting and trapping are allowed in Idaho during specified seasons. The agreement that states have had with the federal government since the wolf was taken off the endangered list includes numbers of breeding pairs of wolves each year. Idaho’s Panhandle Region borders northeastern Washington, putting the Colville Reservation well within the range a wolf might cover. Some of Colville’s wolf population likely came from Idaho as well as migrating south from British Columbia in Canada.

DNA analysis is also being done in the Panhandle, which may help answer that question. Analysis is being conducted by experts such as wolf biologist Lacy Robinson, who plans to visit four to six wolf dens this spring to document pup survival, place collars on the pups and obtain DNA material from fecal matter. Timing is key, she said with a chuckle.

“I try to get them when they’re old enough to wear a collar but not big enough to run away,” said Robinson, who is based in northern Idaho.