Northwest

Helicopter rescues Forest Service worker who climbed tree to escape wolves

Members of the Washington Department of Natural Resources crew who helped rescue a Forest Service employee, and their helicopter. This photo was taken after their July 12, 2018, mission.
Members of the Washington Department of Natural Resources crew who helped rescue a Forest Service employee, and their helicopter. This photo was taken after their July 12, 2018, mission.

Two gray wolves forced a seasonal U.S. Forest Service employee into a tree on Thursday.

The seasonal employee was doing a research survey in the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest, in central Washington state, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service news release. The employee was preparing for stream surveys in the area.

Before being treed the employee attempted to scare the two wolves, which are members of the Loup Loup pack, by yelling, waving and spraying bear spray in the animals direction. After those attempts were unsuccessful the woman climbed a tree and called for help around 12:30 p.m.

She was near the Tiffany Spring Campground in the Pasayten Wilderness of the North Cascades. According to the Gazette-Tribune the woman was 30 feet up in the air.

“The information we received was that she was 30 feet up a tree with a pack of wolves surrounding it,” Okanogan Sheriff Frank Rogers told the Tribune. “The deputies were advised that if they arrived on the scene and the wolves were still surrounding the female they were to shoot the wolves on sight.”

However, a Department of Natural Resources helicopter based in Omak, Wash. responded. The helicopter is mainly used for fire fighting efforts. According to Hilary S. Franz, the head of DNR, the helicopter arrived on scene within 14 minutes of the call being placed.

“Our helicopter went in quickly,” she said. “We were able to scare the wolves away.”

Franz said the approaching helicopter sent the wolves scurrying, which allowed the crew of four to land and get the employee.

“Rescuing a biologist from the wolves is new to me,” Franz said.

But she emphasized that DNR crews often respond to non-fire related calls.

Washington state's Department of Natural Resources has a Wildfire Aviation team that provides rapid response to wildland fires and an occasional rescue. All of DNR's UH-1H helicopters saw service during the Vietnam War.

Members of the helicopter crew declined an interview request via a DNR spokesperson.

Wolves are federally protected in the western two-thirds of Washington.

A Loup Loup pack den site is within a kilometer of the site where the incident occurred, and GPS collar data from Thursday evening shows at least one adult wolf from the Loup Loup pack in close proximity to the area where the incident occurred, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service news release.

Biologists believe the area where the biologist was treed was a “rendezvous” site and the wolves were likely acting in a defensive manner to protect offspring or food sources. Rendezvous sites are home or activity sites where weaned pups are brought from the den until they are old enough to join adult wolves in hunting activity, according to the release.

Wolves are rarely aggressive toward people. Former Spokesman-Review outdoors editor Rich Landers encountered wolves while hiking with his dogs last summer. For his tips on hiking in wolf country visit spokesman.com/blogs/outdoors/2017/jul/27/video-hiking-safely-dogs-wolf-country/.

At the end of 2017, the state held at least 122 wolves, 22 packs and 14 successful breeding pairs, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates. That compares with a minimum of 115 wolves, 20 packs and 10 breeding pairs reported at the end of 2016.

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