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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Out & About: Rare wolf-dog hookup indicates wolf population thin

OUTBRED – Last week, the saga of wolf recovery in Washington took a strange tryst.

News that a large domestic guard dog got loose and mated with a female gray wolf likely will force Fish and Wildlife officials to be even MORE cautious when estimating the wolf population.

Biologists quickly put two and two together in January when an intact male Akbosh sheep dog climbed a 7-foot tall fence from its yard near Ione while two female wolves were in the area wearing GPS collars the biologists were monitoring.

The dog took a six-week romp on the wild side with the two females in Pend Oreille County.

If a male wolf had been with the females during January-February, when they come into heat, the wolves would have killed the dog immediately, experts say.

Since the dog survived the love-fest, wildlife officials chose to capture the two wolves by shooting tranquilizer darts from a helicopter.

Both were tested. The pregnant one was spayed. The dog was returned to its owners and the wolves were released.

“Our goal is restoration of a native wolf population, not in producing a generation of hybrids we’d have to take care of in another way later,” said Donny Martorello, the department’s carnivore manager in Olympia.

In other words, they preferred to avoid the option of exterminating the pups in their den.

Now the emphasis can shift to why the wolf that came into heat didn’t attract a male wolf.

The logical explanation is that the wolf population is thin. While pack territories have nearly saturated northeastern Washington, individuals appear to be far and few between.

Another question: Why?

Some possible explanations:

• Even though they spread through Idaho and Montana faster than expected, wolves need more time to repopulate their historic range in Washington.

• The prey base is too low to support large numbers of wolves.

• A substantial population of mountain lions is picking off solo wolves before they can bond in new packs.

• There’s a lot of S-S-S going on behind the back of a bare-bones force of Fish and Wildlife Police.

Rich Landers

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

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