WALLA WALLA -- Are there wolves roaming the Bennington Lake area?
Well, nobody is crying "Wolf!" one way or the other.
While wildlife workers say they can't confirm or deny a claim that a person encountered wolves while hiking in the area recently, they said they definitely want to urge anyone who thinks he or she saw a wolf to get in touch with them.
"If people have sightings, we encourage them to contact us so we can investigate what's there," said Paul Wik of the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The department maintains a toll-free number in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for people to report sightings.
While the WDFW has no definitive proof of wolves around Bennington Lake, "we have had credible sightings reported to us in the Mill Creek area of Oregon and Washington. We do think that it's likely there are wolves in the foothills of the Blue Mountains to the east of Walla Walla. But we are unclear whether those are single animals or whether multiple animals are running together," Wik said.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the latest evidence was found on Jan. 20 when wolf tracks were seen in the Cottonwood Creek area about eight miles east of Milton-Freewater. Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator, reported that ODFW and the U.S. Forest Service workers confirmed three distinct sets of tracks while a fourth track was "observed but unconfirmed."
The Bennington Lake sighting was reported in a letter published Tuesday in the Union-Bulletin. The writer, Walla Walla resident Carl Nuthak, said the incident occurred about a week ago when a friend of his said four wolves "kept circling him and running alongside" as the friend was hiking in the area.
But park rangers who work daily in the Mill Creek project have seen no sign of wolves, said Gina Baltrusch, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Unleashed dogs are allowed in the area and it's possible the person may have seen a group of those or even some wolf-dog hybrids.
Nuthak, however, dismissed that idea. Both he and his friend have lived in Alaska and know what wolves look like, he said. "They (park rangers) wouldn't see them (wolves) if they were standing on top of them."
He also insisted wolves are well established in this area.
"It's no surprise, I've found elk killed by wolves five years ago up in the Coppei Creek area," Nuthak said.