It had a black coat and was female, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Past that, federal forensic scientists are still investigating the identity of a dead animal found between Exit 38 and Exit 42 on I-90 on Tuesday. But officials suspect it was a wild gray wolf.
If they're right, and if the animal wasn't a hybrid or a particularly wild-looking dog, the wolf would be the first of its kind found west of the Cascades in more than 70 years. (The last trace of a wolf west of the Cascades points to tracks found in Snohomish County in the 1940s, though the Department of Fish and Wildlife has received reports from people who think they've seen wolves in recent years.)
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is still looking into the cause of death, but "we suspect it was hit by a car," explained Brent Lawrence, public affairs officer at the USFWS. "As with many things that are found along the highway, it's pretty messy."
Conservationists are particularly excited about this potential new wolf development, because they say it shows recovery of an endangered species that had been practically wiped out in Washington by trapping, poisoning, and shooting roughly a century ago. "The fact that this wolf was found less than 50 miles from downtown Seattle is a testament to the fact that we've preserved some wild places that wolves are interested in populating," Shawn Cantrell, Northwest program director at Defenders of Wildlife, said.
But if wolves do start padding around King County, it'll be an adjustment for humans, too. Eastern Washington state legislator Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda), whose district has plenty of experience with wolf packs and sheep, proposed a bill earlier this year that would relocate his local wolves to western Washington. "Most of the support in the state for wolves … comes from areas where there are no wolves," Kretz told the Spokesman Review.
Kretz had a point. "As a biologist it's pretty exciting to have a large carnivore coming back on our landscape after having been gone for a number of years, to complete the suite of animals that were here when this part of the country was settled," said Dave Ware, wolf policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "As the manager, though, it's going to be very challenging to have large carnivores... they tend to be very vocal and evoke quite a bit of fear."
If the wolves act anything like cougars, they'll mark the interface between urban settlements and wilder areas as territorial boundaries, Ware said. Wolves usually shy away from humans, he added, but they do see pet dogs as competitors, and have been known to get aggressive. Once wolf pups reach adolescence, they tend to wander and look for mates. The dispersers, as these wolves are known, could mean more exploring in territory wolves haven't populated more than a century.