State's second gray wolf pack confirmed

SPOKANE -- Biologists have confirmed Washington's second gray wolf pack, and an adult wolf has been equipped with a satellite-telemetry tracking collar by biologists in northeast Washington's Pend Oreille County.

On Friday, biologists with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and a wolf expert from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game temporarily captured a 105-pound wolf -- believed to be the alpha-male -- to equip it with a satellite-telemetry collar to track its movement. Two wolf pups also were captured, equipped with ear tags and released.

The collared wolf's movements will be monitored with data transmitted by satellite and downloaded on a computer. The Global Positioning System equipment allows monitoring without the aerial or ground tracking required in standard radio telemetry.

Biologists found earlier evidence of the wolf pack, named the Diamond Pack, through howling responses from multiple wolves of various ages, and from photos of up to four young wolves recorded on a remote, motion-triggered camera. A wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves traveling together.

Biologists with the department and the state Department of Natural Resources have been monitoring the area in recent weeks after a remote camera recorded images in May of what appeared to be an adult male and female gray wolf. The female wolf was lactating, indicating she was nursing pups.

Subsequent genetic testing of a hair sample collected from a camera station indicated the hair came from a male gray wolf from the northwestern Montana/southwestern Alberta wolf population.

Biologists also conducted howling surveys, and responding howls were heard from multiple wolves.

Last summer, Washington's first breeding pair of wolves found since the 1930s was radio-collared in western Okanogan County in north-central Washington.

Biologists also have been investigating reports of wolf sightings in the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington.

Gray wolves were removed from Washington by the 1930s as a result of trapping, shooting and poisoning, and later listed as both a federal and state endangered species.

Gray wolf populations in nearby Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have rebounded in recent years as a result of federal recovery efforts in the northern Rocky Mountains. They were recently removed from the federal endangered species list in those areas and the eastern third of Washington, including Pend Oreille County.

The state is in the process of drafting a gray wolf conservation and management plan, which will be circulated for public comment later this year, and will be considered for adoption by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2010.