The Gifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF) is home to spectacular wildlife. Presence of mountain lions, martens, mardon skippers, and spotted frogs are all signs of a healthy landscape. The wildlife of the regions is an integral part of our Pacific Northwest heritage.
Through our wildlife camera surveys, we are working to monitor habitat use and species assemblages in the GPNF. Our data is used to promote conservation of critical forest areas and to enhance our wildlife conservation initiatives. Understanding how carnivores and ungulates are distributed on the landscape and what areas are used by certain species informs how we develop conservation strategies and respond to management policies. With the help of dedicated volunteers, we survey a number of sites across the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This year, we are concentrating on surveying management areas east of Mount St. Helens for the presence of marten and fisher.
After an absence of more than 70 years, we are nearing the possibility of wolves returning to the GPNF. To do our part to make this transition as smooth as possible, we will be working to support non-lethal approaches to wolf management and we will be engaging with local communities and ranchers in constructive and productive dialogue. Communication is vital for building understanding. Looking to successful examples such as the range rider programs in northern Washington and the reduction of depredation seen with the use of fladry around calving pastures, we are able to highlight approaches and methods that work to serve the needs of all parties involved.
Through predator control campaigns, wolves were extirpated from the region in the early 1900s. Similar to effects seen with the loss of other apex predators, the loss of wolves from the landscape has had detrimental effects on natural ecosystems that had evolved with these trophic cascades intact. The return of wolves, even in the matter of several years, has been shown to bring river systems and forest communities back into balance.
Wolves have been returning to Washington and, as of 2016, there are at least 115 wolves in 20 known packs in the state. The wolves of Washington have arrived from Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia, and they are the same species historically found in the region. Most of these packs are in eastern Washington, but wolves have started to make a slow comeback in the Cascades. Although wolves are re-establishing in some parts of their historic range, the stability of the species in the state is still precarious.
The state’s Wolf Management Plan governs management of wolves until the species hits recovery objectives for breeding packs and overall wolf numbers. With illegal poaching and lethal management efforts still determining the fate of individuals and packs, the timeline for reaching of this goal is unclear. Gray wolves are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of Washington state, but they have been federally delisted in the eastern third of Washington state. We are currently working with partners to maintain important legal protections and to restore a viable population of wolves throughout the Pacific Northwest through outreach, advocacy, and collaboration. These partnerships allow us an opportunity to explore the newest findings in science and collaboration, as well as offering a forum to increase a region-wide understanding of the best routes for moving forward productively with this sometimes difficult issue.
There is a large amount of misinformation with regard to wolves. Despite what we might have grown up believing or what we gather from sensational media, wolves are wary of humans and do not pose a significant risk to human safety. There have only been two confirmed fatal attacks on humans in the past 100 years. As far as wolf and livestock interactions, lethal control of wolf populations near livestock has been shown to actually increase depredation. Promoting more effective measures, however, has proven difficult in many areas of the state. Moreover, the vast majority of mortality for livestock in the Pacific Northwest results from other causes, with disease and death from sheep dogs far outweighing effects from wolves. These areas are where communication and transparency come in as important elements in wolf recovery. Working together and finding common solutions is central to all our work, and wolf recovery is no exception.
The fisher is a small forest carnivore that once roamed the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and other healthy forest landscapes in the western United States. Trapping and habitat fragmentation caused the local extirpation of fishers and helped to decimate populations across the west. There are several populations of fishers still present in certain locations in the west, but logging, isolation, and incidental poisoning from rodenticides threaten their continued existence. Shiloh Halsey, our Conservation Science Director, has been researching fisher reintroduction in our national forest and has recently published an article in Landscape Ecology that explores the dynamics of predation and reintroduction. This article can be found