The body of a gray wolf found last month near Tum Tum in Stevens County is the first physical proof that the species has returned to Washington, state wildlife officials say.
Tests initiated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that a road-kill canine found 25 miles northwest of Spokane on state Highway 291 was a wolf and not a hybrid.
The wolf apparently died after being struck by a vehicle in early June. After the body was found, DNA tests performed by a California lab determined the animal was genetically similar to wolves in northwest Montana and southern British Columbia.
Records show no confirmed instances of wolves in the state since the 1930s, said Madonna Luers, Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman.
Numerous reports of wolves seen or photographed in remote parts of northeast Washington in recent years suggest the animals are dispersing from Idaho, Montana and Canada.
But those unconfirmed sightings, primarily in Pend Oreille and Stevens counties, might have been of wolf-hybrids, which Luers said appear nearly identical to gray wolves.
Another roadkill animal, struck by a car June 21 in Lincoln County north of Davenport, turned out to be a hybrid, Luers said.
The gray wolf was removed last spring from the federal endangered species list in the eastern third of Washington. The species has also been delisted in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Washington state still considers the gray wolf endangered.
The state is also drafting a wolf conservation and management plan.
Last year a rancher near Laurier, Wash., found a calf that had been partially eaten by a predator with large canine tracks. Some officials were convinced that a wolf – not a hybrid – killed the calf. But Luers noted wolf-hybrids have been known to kill livestock as well.
The discovery of the wolf near Tum Tum suggests wolves are moving closer to populated areas, said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Kevin Robinette. Wolves are typically cautious and avoid populated areas.
“That’s the nearest to Spokane we’ve had any reports of a wolf,” Robinette said.
Wolves were eliminated from Washington by poisoning, trapping and bounty-hunting in the 1930s.
While no physical proof has been found, state wildlife officials believe wolf packs have moved into Okanogan County. In response to reports of sightings, biologists surveyed the west half of the county and heard vocalizations indicating adult and juvenile wolves were in the area. The biologists visited several locations and made wolf-like howls, and they heard multiple adult and juvenile howls in response.