ENTIAT — Craig Monette was shocked when he saw what was walking toward him while snowmobiling up the North Fork of Mud Creek Road on Monday.
“At first I thought it was a coyote,” said Monette, of Chelan. “Then I realized it was a wolf. It was like seeing a UFO. I had to stop and get my camera out of my backpack. I thought it would take off, but it just kept coming at me.”
The wolf came within about 100 feet of him before running off. Monette shot several digital photos with a Canon SX30 and a telephoto setting. He brought prints to The Wenatchee World and to the local office of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“I think people ought to know there are wolves in Chelan County,” he said. A blowup of the photos shows the wolf had been tagged.
“They were absolutely incredible photos,” said David Volson, a wildlife biologist for Fish and Wildlife in Wenatchee. Volson said a blowup of the photos allowed him to read the number on the tag in the wolf’s ear and positively identify it as a young female that was caught and tagged last fall in the Teanaway Valley. There are two documented wolf packs along the east slopes of the Cascades, he said, the Teanaway Wolf Pack in northern Kittitas County and the Lookout Wolf Pack in western Okanogan County.
The wolf Monette photographed is probably about 2 years old and out looking for a new home, Volson said.
“We know wolves are dispersers,” he said. At about 2 years of age, some will travel 50 to 75 miles or more looking for new territory. Volson said biologists recently tracked one wolf from the Teanaway who was fitted with a remote collar all the way to Canada, nearly 300 miles. He thinks this wolf may be following a similar route.
The wildlife department has worked extensively using remote cameras and ground and aerial surveillance to determine if there are wolf packs in Chelan County. A few dispersing wolves have been sited or reported, but there is no evidence that there are resident wolves in the area.
“I’ve been flying over the Entiat Valley all year for a deer survey and I’ve never seen a wolf track,” he said. “But it makes sense that we could have wolves traveling through here. This one was beautiful and very healthy looking.”
Monette, a self-described avid sportsman, also photographed a moose with two calves and a couple of elk in the area Monday. He said he’s seen wolves in Montana before, but never one in this area and never so close. It was an exciting and slightly unnerving experience, he said.
“They have a place in life like everything, but people should know they’re out there,” he said.