State and federal wildlife agencies trapped, collared and released what they believe is an adult male gray wolf near Marblemount last week, after getting reports of wolf tracks, howling and chickens attacked in the area.
It’s the first time a gray wolf has been caught and fitted with a GPS collar west of the North Cascades crest, state Department of Fish & Wildlife spokesman Craig Bartlett said.
“The clearest previous indication of wolves moving west of the Cascades was in April 2015, when a wolf was found dead – hit by a vehicle – on Interstate 90. There have also been scattered reports of sightings, but this is the first wolf captured and collared in Western Washington,” Bartlett said.
The gray wolf population has grown in Eastern Washington over the past decade, but there are no known packs – groups of two or more animals – in Western Washington.
Gray wolves are protected as an endangered species throughout the state, with state protection in Eastern Washington and federal Endangered Species Act protection in the western two-thirds of the state.
The species has been protected in Washington since 1978.
State and federal wildlife officials are monitoring the movements of the wolf through GPS data from the collar and are working to determine where it came from and whether it is accompanied by other wolves.
Officials said state and federal agencies receive reports of wolf sightings and activity in Skagit County each year, but most are unconfirmed.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service spokeswoman Ann Froschauer said DNA samples collected while the wolf was sedated will help confirm whether the wolf is a gray wolf or another species, and could help pinpoint which pack it came from, likely from an area in Eastern Washington or southern British Columbia.
Gray wolves can get up to about 6 feet long and typically weigh about 100 pounds, according to the state Department of Fish & Wildlife. They are about twice the size of a coyote and, although referred to as gray wolves, their fur can have shades of white, brown, gray and black.
At the end of 2016, the state documented 20 packs in the state, including the Lookout Pack near Twisp in nearby Okanogan County. Since 2008, the population has grown about 30 percent a year, with an estimated 115 wolves at the end of 2016, officials said.