Researcher Rescued from Tree: Wolves Keep Watch Below, but Show No Signs of Aggression

Researcher Rescued from Tree: Wolves Keep Watch Below, but Show No Signs of Aggression

This should have been the toned-down headline for a recent news story of a student doing fish research in eastern Washington State who encountered a pair of wolves near their den/rendezvous site, and the wolves eventually approached her . She retreated 30 feet up a tree in response. She had to be rescued by helicopter after radioing for help! Instead we have seen a myriad of headlines regarding this story like this one:

Wildlife agencies, sheriff investigate after wolves chase woman (Capitol Press, Saturday, July 14)

Wolves are the least dangerous of all the large carnivores you might encounter in North America.   However, certain safety rules ALWAYS apply when working, playing or living in the back country and the first of those is to BE SITUATIONALLY AWARE.   The woman in the story recounted that she had noted wolf tracks and heard barking and howling for some time before the wolves actually showed themselves. A strategic avoidance of an area with that much wolf sign is the foremost safety rule. From the interviews that WWO did following the event with involved agency personnel, (although none with the woman who was rescued from the tree) it appears that she was unaware she was in wolf country, and although she deployed bear spray, she apparently knew next to nothing about wolves and was unaware that she might encounter them there,  (although maps of known wolf territories are readily available on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website) or what to do if she should encounter them.

It is not clear what the student was doing in such a remote area with which she was unfamiliar, working alone. That in itself is not a safe practice for so many reasons, the least of which is “threat by wolves”.

Western Wildlife Outreach commends the agency response to this situation. WDFW issued a press advisory update , along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who manage wolves in this part of the state where wolves are still covered under the federal Endangered Species Act.   In that statement both agencies recognized that the wolves were near their former den site and rendezvous areas where pups are taken after leaving the den, but before they are old enough to travel and hunt with the adults.   The two adult wolves were protecting their young, gave ample warning that they wanted the human “intruder” to leave by howling and barking for some while before approaching her, but never acted aggressively. No control action is required or recommended in this situation by either agency.

So what do you do to stay safe in wolf country? Here are Western Wildlife Outreach’s safety recommendations:

  • Resist the temptation to approach wolves.
  • Do not entice or allow wolves to come nearby.
  • Do not feed wolves or leave food outdoors, including pet food.
  • Do not approach fresh wolf kills, dens, or rendezvous sites.
  • Do not let wolves become comfortable near human-inhabited areas.
  • Notify authorities about wolves that seem comfortable around people, seek human food, or frequent human or livestock areas. Early intervention can keep a problem from getting worse.

During a close encounter with a wolf, people should do the following:

  • Stand tall and make themselves look larger.
  • Calmly but slowly back away and maintain eye contact.
  • If the wolf does not run away immediately, continue making yourself large, keeping eye contact, and backing away.
  • Do not turn your back on the wolf or run away.
  • If a dog is about to encounter a wolf, the dog should be brought to heel at the owner’s side as quickly as possible and leashed.  Standing between the dog and the wolf often ends the encounter. To avoid risk of injury to yourself, do not attempt to break up a physical fight between a wolf and a dog accept by using bear spray or a powerful hose from a safe distance.
  • If the wolf does not retreat and is acting aggressive by holding its tail high, raising its hackles, barking or howling, you should yell and throw things at it while continuing to back away. If it attacks, fight back aggressively to show you are too dangerous to attack.
  • To ensure that there is no opportunity for your child or your pet  to encounter any carnivore when camping, do not allow children to play away from camp or alone. Keep them close to adults at all times. Keep pets leashed and under control.


If you encounter a wolf or other large carnivore that is displaying habituated behavior (not afraid of people) please report sighting and details to the Washington Wolf Reporting Hotline at 888-584-9038.


For more information gray wolves in Washington see:



Living with Livestock and Wolves: Tools for Coexistence

Living with Livestock and Wolves Cover

Special thanks to Stephanie Simek, WDFW Wildlife Conflict Manager

Western Wildlife Outreach, through funding and assistance provide through Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has created an integrated outreach program that can be presented to interested audiences of all types, although the primary target audience is small-scale livestock producers who want to know more about steps they can take to avoid conflicts with gray wolves.  In order to find the very best approaches applicable to Washington and similar regions,  WWO conducted a search of current research projects and techniques.  Those findings and recommendations are available at the link below:

Gray Wolf Photographed in Mount Spokane State Park leads to WWO Citizen Science Wolf-tracking Expansion

Living with Livestock and Wolves Wolf-Livestock Conflict Avoidance A Review of the Literature

PowerPoint Nonlethal Conflict Avoidance Measures

Fact Sheet 1 Introduction to Washington’s Wolves, Wolf Behavior and Nonlethal Wolf Deterrent Methods

Fact Sheet 2 Assessing Livestock Operations and Choosing Best Methods for Avoiding Conflicts with Wolves

Fact Sheet 3 Range Riders, Herders and Increased Human Presence

Fact Sheet 4 Reducing Attractants, Carcass Management, and Composting

Fact Sheet 5 Fencing, Fladry and Night-penning

Fact Sheet 6 Alarm or Scare Devices and Hazing to Deter Wolf Presence  

        Fact Sheet 7 Keeping Your Dog Safe in Wolf Country

Doug Smith, Yellowstone Wolf Lead Project Biologist: Laying out the Facts

Originally published January 5, 2014. Reprinted with permission of the Montana Pioneer

Interview conducted by Quincy Orhai

Recently, the Montana Pioneer spoke with Doug Smith, Yellowstone National Park Wolf Project Leader and Senior Biologist at the Yellowstone Center for Resources, about the nature of the wolves introduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, including the “non native subspecies” charge advanced by critics, and about ongoing research on wolves in the park.

MP: What were the genetic sources of wolves introduced into YNP—where did the existing wolf population originate?

DS: Forty one wolves were introduced to YNP in 1995. There were 14 in 1995 from Alberta, and 17 in 1996 from British Columbia, and 10 in 1997 from near Choteau, Montana. We have genetic evidence that some of those wolves went on to breed. So, 10 of the wolves that were introduced were from Montana, and 31 were from Canada.

MP: What were the main characteristics that were different between the wolves from Canada and the wolves that pre-existed here in Yellowstone, say 150 years ago? Is that known?

DS: Not really. All we have are skulls to judge it from. What we know from studying the skulls are that the wolves are essentially the same. The Canadian wolves were about 7 to 8 percent larger than the pre-existing wolves of Yellowstone. Seven to eight percent is within the variation of size difference found in wolf skulls all over North America, so the difference is statistically insignificant. It is important to compare apples to apples, so-to-speak. Pups and immature animals are smaller, and males are about 20 percent larger than females, at full size. It is important to compare similar age and gender skulls to each other. So comparing the handful of skulls that were preserved here as museum samples with over 150 skulls of wolves that have died here since they were introduced, the skulls are essentially the same, but the ones from Canada are slightly bigger.

Taxonomically (classifying in categories such as genus, species, and subspecies), you get differences between species when there are limitations on their ability to mix genetically. Wolves are stopped by nothing. They will cross mountain ranges, rivers, even pack ice. That’s how good this animal is at moving around. So what we have is this constant intermixing of genes that prevents them from becoming really different subspecies. Wolves origin-ated in North America a couple of million years ago. When glaciers connected Alaska and Russia, they crossed over into Russia. They got bigger over there. In the last 600,000 to 700,000 years differently evolved wolves have crossed back to North America in three waves. The remnants of the oldest wave of wolves returning to North America are now the most southern species, and also the smallest, Canis lupus baileyi, the Mexican wolf. The middle wave of evolved wolves returning to this continent from Asia are the gray  wolves we have here now, and the most recent are the largest, the arctic wolves.

MP: Were the wolves introduced into YNP significantly different physically or behaviorally from the wolves that were here?

DS: The short answer is no. Wolves are ecological generalists. They can live on a variety of things. We looked for wolves that were previously exposed to bison and elk. The Canadian wolves had a small percentage of bison hair in their scat, but primarily elk and deer hair. We thought that was ideal, as that is the same diet—primarily elk and deer—as we have here. The available wolves from Minnesota had no experience with mountainous terrain or herds of elk or bison. We selected wolves from the same Rocky Mountain ecosystem, with the same kind of prey, to enhance the likelihood of the introduced wolves surviving. I want to clarify the misconception that larger Canadian wolves were preying on smaller American elk [thereby reducing the elk population inordinately]. In fact, the much smaller southwestern Mexican wolf brings down elk. The elk the Mexican wolves prey on in Arizona and New Mexico originally came from Yellowstone, as did the elk in Canada. The optimal number of adult wolves necessary to bring down an elk is only four, but a pair of wolves can also kill an elk.

MP: We hear reports that there were wolves already in Yellowstone that could have multiplied without reintroduction.

DS: There were no wolves here when we introduced the current wolves in 1995. There were no specially adapted wolves [as critics have claimed] in Yellowstone that did not run in packs, or use trails or roads, that didn’t howl, and that preyed on small prey, unlike the wolves we have now. There has simply never been a wolf recorded anywhere that lives like that. Furthermore, there is no better bird dog for a wolf than a wolf itself. We had radio collars on all 41 wolves we released over a 3-year period. If there were extant wolves already on the landscape, they would have found them. The wolves we released never turned up any other wolves, dead or alive. And by the way, they rarely eat other wolves that they kill.

MP: Wolves killing other wolves is the main cause of wolf deaths in the park, correct?

DS: Yes, almost half of the 15 YNP wolves that died in 2012 were killed by other wolves. However, for wolves living outside the park, 80 percent of the wolf deaths are caused by humans, mostly by shooting them.

MP: How many wolves are in YNP now?

DS: Last year at the end of 2012 there were at least 83 wolves occupying YNP in 10 packs (6 breeding pairs). This is approximately a 15 percent decline from the previous three years when the numbers had stabilized at around 100 wolves. Wolf numbers have declined by about 50 percent since 2007, mostly because of a smaller elk population.

MP: Would the 1994 population of gray wolves that lived in Montana have naturally recovered, given the protection of the Endangered Species Act?

DS: That was a big opinion-based debate by wolf biologists at the time, led by Bob Ream of the University of Montana. In his opinion, wolves would have recovered given enough time—50, 60 or 70 years. Other people think they would not have made it. Yellowstone National Park and the five National Forests around it can be likened to a huge island. It’s the most impressive wild land we have got in the lower 48, and some people say it’s the most impressive temperate zone wild land in the world. But it’s got an abrupt boundary to it. I frequently fly over here in an airplane, and at the boundary of a National Forest, it turns into a sea of humanity. And wolves are notoriously bad at getting through seas of humanity. Wolves get shot a lot. When we were dealing with a handful of wolves, maybe 40 to 60, how many of those would have been heading this way? So far, we have not yet documented a wolf coming from northwest Montana into Yellowstone. We have documented them coming from Idaho, but that’s a lot closer and the linkages are better, primarily in the Centennial Mountains. Wolves don’t do well over huge landscapes dominated by people. By introducing wolves they were legally not a fully protected species under the Endangered Species Act. People wanted to be able to shoot them when they got into livestock, which they could not have done if they were a fully protected species.

MP: Wolves from Idaho have now invaded the original Glacier National Park wolves, right?

DS: The Idaho wolf population is now fully connected to the northwest Montana wolf population. Interest-ingly, a study of historic wolf DNA from pelts and skulls shows that over 50 percent of wolf genetic diversity was lost when the continental United States population was reduced to a few hundred wolves in Minnesota. Wolves were the top carnivores in North America. Wolves evolved to adapt to the local conditions, and they will do so again.

MP: The tapeworm cysts spread by wolves that critics rail about, what risk to humans does this pose?

DS: The Echinococcus granulo sus tapeworm was already here. Wolves didn’t bring it in. The coyotes, foxes and domestic dogs likely had it before wolves. The human health risk from tapeworms is almost nil. If anyone should have Echinococcus tapeworm it’s me. I’ve handled over 500 wolves in my career. I take their temperature with a rectal thermometer. That’s where the tapeworm eggs come out. I now wear rubber gloves, but I wash my hands in snow, then eat my lunch. I wouldn’t worry much about it.

MP: What are the primary benefits and disadvantages of having wild ranging wolf packs in the Northern Rockies?

DS: The simplest way to answer that is that there is no question that wolves made people’s lives more complicated, and that’s a good reason not to have them. Some people love them, some people hate them, and wolves are a polarizing animal. People have to spend a lot of time dealing with the controversy that comes with wolves. Life is simpler without wolves. I admit that if you are a rancher, having wolves around is worrisome. I understand that it’s not just the cows they kill; it’s the sleepless nights. I think that’s the best argument to not have them.
What’s the ecological value of wolves? I don’t know. It’s a human dominated world. We control everything. So why do we need wolves? Landscapes look the way they do because of agriculture, forestry, hunting, mining, development—all those things trump things like wolves. So you really don’t get huge ecological benefits of wolves outside of National Parks. In National Parks you do. So why have wolves on these huge landscapes where there are people? Good question. The best answer is, because people want them there. You know, there are a lot of people that don’t like wolves. There is an equally large number that do like them, because living in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming is unique and different than living in places like Illinois, Iowa and Arkansas. You have grizzly bears, you have wolves, you have cougars. And that brings in a lot of tourism dollars. Wolves and grizzly bears are the two top attractions to Yellowstone. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are perceived as being pristine, just because of the mere existence of the three large, toothy carnivores. It makes visiting or living here more valuable and a better experience. Economics are more important than ecology when it comes to carnivore populations in Yellowstone National Park.

Right now, it’s as natural as it’s ever been in Yellowstone Park. Now we have more predators than we have ever had, which means we have fewer elk, and fewer elk means we have all these other ecological benefits, like beavers and songbirds and fishes, and generally enhanced riparian habitat, because fewer elk means less browsing of riparian habitat. So it’s a more balanced ecosystem. We only get that because we have natural densities of carnivores. As soon as you cross the park line, all the densities of those carnivores go down because humans manage them. And that is fine; it’s not a criticism. The carnivores are on the landscape. That’s the thing that the tourists like, but they are not at their normal densities that would occur if people didn’t manage them.

MP: What about surplus killing by wolves [where, for example, ranchers report wolves killing or maiming a dozen sheep in one night]?

DS: Surplus killing by wolves doesn’t really exist, per-se. We have watched wolves when they have killed more meat than they can immediately consume, and they always come back to finish the carcass unless they are spooked off by people. Hunting success rates for wolves are in the 5 percent to 15 percent range with elk. So they actually get about one in ten of the elk they go after. Eighty five percent to 95 percent of the time, the elk wins, and the wolves get nothing to eat. So, from an evolutionary perspective, if the wolves are not highly motivated to kill whenever they can, they will lose out. Of the 500 wolves I have handled, all across America, in the Midwest, Canada, Alaska, Yellowstone and Idaho, most of them are skinny beneath their beautiful fur. When I have felt their backbones and their pelvises, they usually are skinny. They are just getting by. The prey is better at getting away than the wolves are at killing the prey. So it is so hard to get dinner and when they do get a chance to kill, they kill. That’s how you get so-called surplus killing, when the elk are weak and in deep snow, wolves will kill more than they can eat. Also, defenseless sheep will be killed in large numbers because the wolves can do so. But I would argue that if the rancher didn’t come out the next day with a rifle, the wolves would eat all those sheep, even if it took them weeks to do so.

Wolves don’t kill for the fun of it, when they are likely to get their head bashed in getting dinner. We have seen 15 or more wolves that have been killed by elk, bison, deer and moose. Wolves are risk averse. They don’t want to try to kill something that’s going to get their head bashed in or their stomach kicked in, but when it’s easy, they will kill more than they can immediately eat, but those circumstances crop up pretty rarely. The wolves always cycle back to finish the carcass.

MP: What is the effect of wolves on the coyote population?

DS: Wolves kill coyotes when they approach wolf kills. Pre wolf-introduction, coyotes were living in packs in YNP, and that’s something that’s unusual. When there are wolves around, the coyotes pretty much live in pairs. Coyotes love coming in and stealing from wolves, and that got them killed. According to unpublished research, supposedly the coyote population dropped in half after the wolf introduction. Over 90 percent of the coyotes that are documented as being killed by wolves have been killed at wolf kill sites—they over estimated the wolves being meat drunk. So the coyotes quit running in packs, and went back to living in pairs, and became more wary around carcasses. The coyotes supposedly socially adapted to wolves, and their population went back to pre-wolf levels. This research is incomplete and inconclusive, but fascinating.

MP: Thank you, Doug. We appreciate this opportunity to present knowledge you have gained over the years about wolves, and at the same time address some of the contro-versies.

DS: Wolves are troublesome and controversial. I understand that. A lot of people don’t like them, but a lot of people do like them, and they make money for a lot of people. What I am really after is to get as good a quality of information out there as possible, to help the debate to be a little bit better.  The extreme anti-wolf person and the extreme pro-wolf person are always going to be problematic; they are never going to be happy. But this big group of people in the middle can come together on more than they think. If we can get an established group of facts about wolves correctly understood, I do think we can make progress in treating wolves just like any other animal, like a cougar, like a bear, like an elk. Sometimes and in some places their numbers need to be cut back, and just like any other form of wildlife, they need to be scientifically managed..

It’s Halloween! Let’s Face Our Fears

Ever stop to wonder why Halloween is such a popular holiday?  Most people don’t even get the day off work or school, after all!  Part of the attraction has to do with enjoying the changing season.  Visits to pumpkin patches and the country farm continue to gain in popularity with each new generation.  But another, maybe not so innocent form of Halloween entertainment is also on the rise:  the haunted house/barn/prison/mansion you name it.  Americans love to scare themselves for entertainment!  Perhaps this need for the adrenalin rush of fear is a result of our “tame” existence today in North America where a relatively peaceful day-to-day life lacks the thrill of fear and danger, so we manufacture it and package it for sale.

For the most part such past-times are harmless enough and provide momentary excitement and thrills and chills.  However, real harm occurs when the images from the haunted house become a perceived reality.  When the image of the evil werewolf in the graveyard with burning red eyes gets transposed on the real wild wolves of North America and elsewhere.  Yes, there are monsters among us, but they walk around in human form, not animal. Those are the predators that should concern us.

Myths of werewolves, wolves stalking and killing humans, movies like “The Gray” and movies/books like the Twilight series help perpetuate the myth of the wolf as a dangerous predator on humans.  It carries over to comments from our politicians and policy makers who want to see the wolf hung in the court of  public opinion, not managed by science as the  apex carnivore needed  for healthy ecosystem maintenance.  So enjoy Halloween.  Go out trick or treating with your kids.  But help them to understand the difference between our real, wild gray wolves who should be admired as any other wild animal for their ability to survive and thrive, part of a healthy, largely intact ecosystem and the pretend “scary” wolves/werewolves of TV and the movies.  Wolves pose almost zero threat to humans, with only two deaths being attributed to wolves in the last 60 years.  On the other hand, the sedentary life style of children today who often avoid outdoor play and recreation poses a real threat to the safety and health of today’s children, who are experiencing a high rise in the rate of obesity and diabetes.

So, enjoy Halloween, marvel at the changing leaves and admire the big orange pumpkins. Carve a jack o’lantern and eat sweets in moderation.  And teach your children to respect all nature, including wild wolves.

Meet Project W.O.L.F.F.

By Janet Kearsley, WWO Education Project Coordinator and Tiffany Bishop, Project W.O.L.F.F Coordinator.

The students in the Cle Elum middle school have been exploring the wild-side of Eastern Washington by participating in an exciting new curriculum called Project W.O.L.F.F. (Wildlife Observational Learning and Fieldwork Fundamentals) initiated this year by Western Wildlife Outreach, the Woodland Park Zoo and the Yakima Basin Environmental Education Program, with assistance from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Yakima Basin was specifically targeted for this innovative approach to teaching about carnivore/prey relationships because it includes habitat for endangered grizzly bears as part of the North Cascades ecosystem, has a newly established pack of wolves in the Teanaway basin just outside Cle Elum, and has many other carnivores and their prey such as elk, mule deer, and mountain sheep so the students are relating to wildlife literally living in their own “backyard”.

The initial curriculum in use in the classroom was modified from the International Wolf Center’s Gray Wolves, Gray Matter, a resource that goes beyond biology to analyze the human aspects of the wolf’s survival. This curriculum helps educators address a true environmental controversy in a holistic, objective manner. The program has been modified to include other major carnivores in the region: grizzly bears, black bears, cougars and bobcats in addition to wolves. Some elements of the WDFW-developed Project Cat, (another highly successful school program focusing on cougars) were also incorporated into Project W.O.L.F.F. Tiffany Bishop, field coordinator for Project W.O.L.F.F, is working alongside teachers and students in the classroom, assisting students with their own science-based examinations of the animals. College students from Central Washington University out of Ellensburg are also providing assistance in the classroom.

The program is being developed as a hands–on, experiential learning curriculum which will eventually be available to schools throughout the region. The students have an opportunity to touch and explore real carnivore and prey species’ pelts, bones, antlers and hooves plus simulated items like casts of paw prints and scat. Students are learning how to make their own examinations, take measurements, and record their observations. This experience plus exposure to the work of scientists studying carnivores and their prey in the Yakima Basin, will prepare students for more advanced science studies in wildlife biology and ecology and provide them with tools to help them identify their own ideas about how human communities can coexisting with carnivores. The program is participating with Department of Fish and Wildlife to track the movement of elk that have been collared in the Yakima Basin and to learn about the DNA testing being done on the carnivore hair samples collected from “hair corrals” being installed along wildlife corridors in the North Cascades.

Western Wildlife is currently seeking funds to develop a hands-on K-3 curriculum with a carnivore reading trunk and a high school intensive field program as well as expanding the program in the Yakima Basin as well as to other parts of the state and region. Funds will be sought to hone the curriculum, align the curriculum components with specific education requirements for Washington State students, and to conduct teacher training workshops and purchase classroom supplies.

8th Wolf Pack Confirmed in Washington State

Many of Washington’s residents are thrilled to see that our native gray wolf population is showing signs of recovering and expanding their range. For the most part, it has been a peaceful return and the wolves are finding natural prey and keeping away from humans. But what should we do when ranchers in remote areas find predation has occurred on their animals as was reported to occur at a ranch in “The Wedge,”  an area of recent wolf activity in Stevens County near the Canadian border between the Columbia and Kettle Rivers, the same area occupied by Washington’s newest wolf pack?  Even though wolf recovery is very popular with a majority of Washington residents, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has a fine line to walk in implementing the State’s new Wolf Conservation and Management Plan adopted by the State’s Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Department last December. Local staff from the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project who live and work in the ranching communities will be listening to concerns voiced by the community and cooperating in efforts to find enduring solutions.  The story below from the Seattle Times discusses Washington’s newest wolf pack–one they will be monitoring now that they have collared an adult male. Department personnel hope that non-lethal means can be employed to harass any wolves approaching livestock.  However,  one Stevens County rancher has been issued a kill permit if he sees a wolf approaching or harming his cattle.  For more information on the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, please visit or our own information at
SPOKANE, Wash. —
Wash. wildlife officials: 8th wolf pack confirmed
Washington Fish and Wildlife officials say they’ve confirmed an eighth wolf pack in the state.  An adult wolf believed to be the pack’s alpha male and a pup were caught Monday in northwestern Stevens County near the Canadian border. The adult got a monitoring collar and the pup got an ear tag.

Wildlife officials say this is being called the “Wedge” pack, named for the wedge-shaped part of Stevens County between the Kettle River and the Columbia River.

Just last month, officials said the agency had confirmed a seventh Washington wolf pack, this one in southern Stevens County, north of the Spokane Indian Reservation. They’re calling that one the Huckleberry pack.

Woodland Park Zoo Bear Affair and Big Howl for Wolves, June 9, 2012

Lorna Smith, Executive Director, GBOP, and Dr. Fred Koontz, Field Conservation Director and VP of Woodland Park Zoo with the Bear Resistant Container still intact! Photo: GBOP

Every year, the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project teams up with Woodland Park Zoo to stage an event that is not only fun for bears and people, but helps to demonstrate some things NOT to do if you live and recreate in bear country. Zoo staff arranged the aftermath of a children’s birthday party with left-over pizza boxes and remnant birthday cake, and of course a few hotdogs strewn around. Keema and Denali, the zoo’s two 700+ pound grizzly bears, were allowed to arrive on the scene as if the human participants had all gone back inside the house and left the goodies, now available to foraging bears. 

Lorna Smith, Executive Director of GBOP, and her wildlife biologist husband Darrell Smith who volunteers for GBOP, were on hand to narrate the bear’s behavior for a fascinated audience. GBOP also had lots of visitors to their display table in the bear grotto where free “bear safety” and bear natural history information was handed out to the public. 

Ray Robertson, GBOP Field Representative and wolf expert also had a display table adjacent to the wolf enclosure. He shared some very exciting footage of Washington wolf pups, the first to be seen in the region in nearly 100 years. Thanks also to volunteers Mandy and Alan Shankle for a very professional job at the GBOP information table!

Woodland Park Zoo crew setting up the "aftermath" of a children's birthday party for the bears to bash. Photo: GBOP
Denali in the bear pool standing upright to scratch his back on the glass, "marking" it as a bear would do in the wild. Photo: GBOP
Denali looking for remnant food in a child's beach pail. Photo: Dennis Dow.


GBOP volunteers Darrell Smith, Mandy Shankle and Alan Shankle at the GBOP information table. Photo: GBOP
750 pound Keema resting after all the hard work. Photo: GBOP

Signs of Wolves

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Wolf Tracks

Wolf track
Wolf track

Track Comparison

Because wolves are elusive and are rarely seen, finding their tracks can be an exciting experience. The charts and information below illustrate some of the characteristics that distinguish wolf tracks from those of their close relatives, coyotes and domestic dogs. Each species has four symmetrical toes on the front and hind feet, with the front track slightly longer and broader than the hind. Claw marks are usually evident and the front of a wolf’s foot pad is single-lobed. The differences are not always clear so look for a combination of characteristics before coming to a conclusion.

Relative track size differences in wolves, domestic dogs, and coyotes:

Track size measurements (NOT including claw marks):

Wolves Compared to Coyotes

Adult wolf tracks are larger and more robust than adult coyote tracks. Young wolves’ feet grow large very quickly, and by the time they are about three months old (around July) even young wolves’ tracks are larger than most coyote tracks. Because wolves are much heavier animals than coyotes their tracks will show some spread in their toes, especially on the front track, more often than those of coyotes. In wolves, claws on the front feet are longer than the hind but generally register distinctly in both.

Wolves Compared to Domestic Dogs

Wolf tracks are larger than those of all but the largest breeds of domestic dogs, the genetic descendents of wolves. While many dog tracks can be easily distinguished from wolf tracks, some domestic dogs have tracks that are very similar to wolves, making them indistinguishable in some instances. Use the guidelines below to help in track identification. However, keep in mind that tracks alone cannot distinguish domestic dogs from wild canids with complete certainty.

Toes and Claws

Large dogs often spread their toes with all four toes radiating outward. Spread is less common in wolves and, if it exists, usually only the outer two toes spread. Wolves’ front claws are longer and more strongly apparent in tracks than the hind claws, but can appear distinctly in both. The appearance of claws in dog tracks is variable.

Track Size

The front feet of domestic dogs often have a round appearance with the length and width similar in size. Wolves’ front feet are often more rectangular in overall shape, longer than wide, unless the outer toes have spread. Track size of domestic dogs is highly variable but most dogs leave tracks that are less than 3.5 in. (9 cm) in length, where wolves’ tracks are 3.5 in. (9 cm) and above. Only a few breeds of dogs such as Great Danes, St. Bernard’s and Blood Hounds leave tracks longer than 4 inches. The tracks of German Shepherds, Malamutes, Retrievers and Setters are usually less than 4 inches long.

Wolves Compared to Cougars

Cougar tracks are often confused with wolf tracks. Distinguishing features of a mountain lion track are its roundness, the shape of the planter pad (main foot pad) and asymmetry of both the foot and the individual toes.

Because cats have retractable claws, mountain lion tracks do not usually show claw marks. This is not always true, however, as cougars sometimes use their claws to increase traction on steep or slippery terrain. Claw marks may also be present if the animal is traveling fast. If claw marks are visible, they will be directly joined to the toe, while the wolf track exhibits a 1/4-inch separation between claw and toe.

Appearance of nearby scats and proximity to people should be considered when large canid tracks are encountered. In some remote areas, large canid tracks may result from the practice of using hounds to hunt mountain lions.

Wolf Scats

Wolves produce scats, or droppings, which are usually composed of hair, bone fragments, and other signs of their carnivorous diet. Coyote scats, often smaller than wolf scats, typically contain small mammal remains, berries, or insects, but there can be some overlap in contents and appearance. Domestic dog scats are generally more uniform in texture and shape without noticeable hair or bone fragments. Never touch scats to avoid contracting parasites.

Wolf Scats

  • long and tubular – often strong in smell
  • range from 1 to 1.5 inches (2.45-4 cm) in diameter

Coyote Scats

  • twisted and irregular
  • range from .5 to 1.25 inches (1.5-3 cm) in diameter

Wolves often prey on large animals such as deer and elk. They have very powerful jaws so look for characteristic feeding signs of bone fragments and cracked bones near a carcass. Wolves as well as scavengers will eventually drag off parts of the carcass. Burying an entire carcass is a practice typical of cougars and occasionally bears, but NOT of wolves. If you find a carcass move away from it – bears may take control of a carcass and can be very aggressive.

Please report suspected wolf and wolf track sightings to the Washington Wolf Reporting Hotline at 1-888-584-9038.  
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Poaching Hotline 1-877-933-9847

Visit the Products page to see our Identifying Washington’s Wolves brochure.

Celebrate Wolf Awareness Week 2011

Since 1990, the third week in October has been deemed Wolf Awareness Week.  In 2011, Governors in 26 states declared October 16th-22nd National Wolf Awareness Week, providing a great opportunity to learn more about wolves and their role in their surrounding ecosystems, to dispel misconceptions about wolves, and to unravel new truths about the carnivores.

Wolves were once plentiful in Washington and Idaho, but were extirpated as settlers moved west and were thus added to the Endangered Species List.  Wolves in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana were recently delisted by an act of Congress, their management left to state control.  Part of the Northern Rocky Mountain population falls into eastern Washington, and so is considered federally delisted.  Washington State is keeping the wolf state listed in eastern Washington, and they remain federally listed in western Washington.

There are currently 5 known wolf packs in Washington state (click here to see map), and many more in the bordering Selkirks of Idaho.  The wolves move from Washington to Idaho to British Columbia, but are managed differently in each area.  In each ecosystem, the wolves play a role in maintaining ecosystem health.

Check your local library for special Wolf Awareness Week presentations and events, and please click here to learn more about wolf biology and behavior, management in Washington and Idaho, tips for coexistence and more.

Washington Wolf Management Plan Special Meeting

600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

July 27, 2011
Contact: Susan Galloway, (360) 902-2267


Fish and Wildlife Commission to discuss
wolf management plan, set waterfowl seasons

OLYMPIA — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to discuss the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) recommended Wolf Conservation and Management Plan during a special meeting Aug. 4 in Olympia.

The special meeting will be followed by a two-day meeting Aug. 5-6, when the commission is scheduled to take action on proposed 2011-12 migratory waterfowl hunting seasons and changes to cougar hunting regulations.

The commission’s special meeting on the final Environmental Impact Statement/Recommended Wolf Conservation and Management Plan will begin at 10 a.m. Aug. 4 in Room 172 on the first floor of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E. The commission will meet at the same location Aug. 5-6, beginning at 8:30 a.m. both days.

Agendas for both meetings are available on the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s website.

During the special meeting Aug. 4, the commission will receive a briefing and take public comment on the recommended Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. The plan is intended to guide state wolf management while wolves naturally disperse and re-establish a sustainable breeding population in the state.

The plan contains recovery objectives that would allow the state to eventually remove wolves from protection lists, along with management strategies to address wolf-livestock and wolf-ungulate conflicts.

The recommended plan was developed after a scientific peer review and extensive public review of the 2009 draft plan. The public comment process, which concluded last year, included 19 public meetings and drew nearly 65,000 responses. In addition, a 17-member citizen Wolf Working Group, which advised WDFW on the plan, met with WDFW staff 10 times from 2007-2011.

WDFW will post on its website the final EIS/Recommended Wolf Conservation and Management Plan on July 28. The website also contains information on the wolf plan development process, including past public input and the scientific peer review.

The commission, which sets policy for WDFW, has scheduled three more special meetings to discuss the recommended Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and take public comment. Those meetings are tentatively scheduled for Aug. 29 in Ellensburg, and Oct. 6 and Nov. 3 in Olympia.

The commission is scheduled to take action on the plan during its December 2-3 meeting in Olympia.

Meanwhile, the commission is scheduled to conduct a public hearing and take action on proposed 2011-12 migratory waterfowl hunting seasons during the Aug. 5-6 meeting in Olympia. Under the seasons proposed by WDFW, waterfowl hunting seasons would be similar to last year.

Also at that meeting, the commission is scheduled to take action on proposed changes to cougar hunting regulations in six counties in eastern Washington, where a pilot project authorizing cougar hunting with the aid of dogs was not extended by the Legislature this year.

WDFW is recommending an increase in cougar hunting opportunities without the aid of dogs in Klickitat, Chelan, Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties to continue to meet management objectives in those areas.

In addition, the commission will consider a proposal that would modify the criteria for determining when cougars are removed to address public concerns for pet and livestock depredation and personal safety. The proposal would allow for cougar removals when complaints confirmed by WDFW staff exceed the five-year average.

In other action, the commission will consider proposed amendments to the list of game reserves. The proposed amendments would clarify and update the boundary description for Swinomish Spit Game Reserve and eliminate the Ellensburg Game Farm Reserve and South Tacoma Game Farm Reserve.

The commission also will be briefed on the new Discover Pass and the status of key groundfish species in Puget Sound. The commission also will consider for approval WDFW’s proposed 2012 supplemental operating and capital budget requests, as well as the department’s legislative proposals for 2012.