TWISP, Wash. – Despite the controversy that surrounds them, the gray wolves that made a home for themselves near Twisp are acting rather neighborly, so far.
There has been one report of a cow possibly killed by wolves near Twisp, but that had not been confirmed as of last week. No one has reported pets carried off by the first confirmed pack of wolves to live in Washington since the Great Depression, state officials say.
“Well-behaved” is how state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin describes these wolves in their first official year of residency.
“I halfway anticipated we might have had an incident with somebody’s dog by now,” the Winthrop biologist said. “I’ve been surprised at how covert they’ve been.”
This winter, fewer than a dozen wolves who are members of the pack were living in the hills on the outskirts of Twisp and Carlton. Some people saw them and more have heard their cries from their porches and backyards.
They are likely to be the first in the state to encounter the animals, but not the last: The pack may grow rapidly, and other wolves are venturing into Eastern Washington from Idaho.
Some neighbors oppose the comeback of what they call blood-thirsty vermin. Others favor the return of what they see as a long-missing part of Washington’s ecosystem.
But more seem to take a pragmatic view of the wolves’ recovery.
Take Monte Catlin, 36, a Seattle firefighter who also runs an airline charter business and lives on Alder Creek Road with his wife, Mishon, and two young children.
The Catlins said wolves have been checking out their little canyon for several years and over the past year have been regular visitors. For a period this winter, they saw fresh tracks in the snow daily. Wolves have come within 100 yards of the house, and the family enjoys hearing them howl at night, a sound Monte Catlin describes as “absolutely magical.”
Catlin said he has no fear of the creatures – he and his wife have hiked and camped in parts of the country where many wolves live and have never been bothered. They say they feel safe leaving their children to play in the yard under the watchful eyes of their large dogs and would be much more concerned about cougars, bears or just about any other wildlife.
But, Catlin said, his support of the wolves’ return isn’t absolute.
“Having a few wolves around seems to be intriguing and exciting – something new. But if we have 10 times that amount, my opinion could change,” he said. And he understands that even a few wolves could pose problems for people with livestock. “I’m very sympathetic to my neighbor that runs cattle.”
“It’s just another animal, really,” said Jennifer Edwards, 33, a homemaker who lives on the Twisp-Carlton Road just east of where the wolves are living. “We already have cougars and bears. We have coyotes wandering through all the time. They’re the same thing in my brain,” she said.
Down the road a piece, Judy Hanley, 52, a retired homemaker, said, “I think it’s a good thing if they come back, as long as they don’t let it go overboard.”
Hanley said she thinks her cows, horses, dogs, cats and chickens are safe. The chickens are well secured, she said. “I don’t think we have to worry about a wolf jumping over a 6-foot-high fence.”
Blane Rogers, 57, a taxidermist, said he’d like to see a wolf in the wild, and he doesn’t worry about hiking with his little dog – which he keeps on a leash – while on state land near his house. “I think cougars are more likely to jump on you than a wolf is, and I’m not scared of them,” he said. But he knows many of his customers worry their hunting opportunities will be greatly diminished with the wolves’ return.
Walter Parker, 66, retired from the Skagit County Public Works Department, said he’s seen firsthand what the wolves have done in Idaho. “I go over there hunting, and 15 years ago, you’d see all kinds of elk and deer. They’ve completely wiped them out,” he said.
Parker thinks it won’t take long for the wolves in the Methow to wipe out the mule deer. “Then they’ll go for the livestock and dogs and cats,” he said. “In 20 years, this place will be overrun with wolves. I don’t think we need them.”
Some say they have nothing against the wolves, they just don’t want them living so close to rural neighborhoods with lots of livestock, pets and children.
“I don’t really like the idea of having them as neighbors right here,” said longtime resident Larry Surface, 57, a carpenter. “Those of us who have been here for 50 years and longer, we just kind of like to keep the wolves away from the door.”
Surface and a few other residents said they don’t believe the wolves made their way here from Canada on their own. He thinks a special interest group – but not the game department – brought them to the valley. It just doesn’t make sense, he said, that the wolves would decide to make their home this close to Twisp.
Fitkin said it makes sense that wolves came from Canada over several years and finally chose one of the valley’s best hunting grounds to make their home.
Willie Kemper, 73, a retired heavy equipment operator, said the wolves won’t keep him out of the woods, but he worries about leaving his mules out overnight when he packs them into the hills near his house, knowing there’s a wolf pack close by.
“I’m just not real enthused,” he said of the wolves’ return.
He said he doubts the wolves will come into his yard, but he has made one change since to prepare for a wolf encounter.
“I’ve been carrying a little shooter, just for rattlesnakes. Now I just carry a little bigger shooter,” he said of the .357-caliber revolver he now takes with him on his frequent backcountry trips. But, he added, “I don’t know if I dare shoot one or not.”
Tania Rapp, 34, a Carlton farmer, said she wouldn’t mind learning how to use a gun, now that she’s all too aware of the predators that come into her yard up Libby Creek. She has a 6-year-old son.
This winter, a cougar attacked one of their alpacas, and after that experience, she and her husband decided to sell all of their alpacas.
“It’s definitely affected us in that we decided to just not have livestock at the moment, not until we have a really good fence and a really good barn.” They kept a few sheep, which are in a more secured enclosure, she said.
Rapp said she isn’t upset about losing the alpacas. “We live out in the wilderness,” she said. “We just decided we didn’t want to cause any more issues in the community.”
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