Washington Department of Natural Resources
If you knew someone’s life was in danger in the rugged forest of northern Washington, would you send a chopper to rescue them within minutes or let them wait three hours while a crew hiked to the site?
The quick rescue seems like an easy choice. Not for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Two weeks ago a seasonal Forest Service researcher — a student from Utah — was conducting a stream survey in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest when she was confronted by two wolves from the Loup Loup pack that seemed intent on making her lunch. The woman yelled, waved her arms and used bear spray before climbing a tree and radioing for help.
She was rescued by a Department of Natural Resources helicopter crew within about 45 minutes.
Reporting by our Don Jenkins shows that it almost didn’t go that way.
Despite what the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said after the event, it was reluctant to send in the chopper because of the presence of the wolves, a federally protected species in that part of Washington. It wanted to send an overland party — a three-hour trek.
The Department of Natural Resources pushed back and prepared to dispatch an air crew that eventually executed a swift rescue.
Notes from a call between DNR dispatcher Jill Jones and a wildlife officer summarized WDFW’s position, and her position, shortly before the helicopter launched.
“No helicopter. Federally listed species. 3 WDFW personnel saying so,” according to DNR’s call log.
“We are more concerned for her life than the listed animal,” Jones told the wildlife officer. “He indicated that she is safe up in the tree. ... I told him that we do not know how safe she is. I don’t know how stout the tree is, and if the limbs will continue to hold her or how long she can hold on.”
Finally, at the DNR’s urging, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and WDFW agreed to launching the air rescue.
The wolves scattered when the chopper arrived at the site about 30 minutes later. The woman was rescued and all ended well.
But it could have gone badly had WDFW been allowed to put the well-being of the wolves ahead of the student clinging to the tree.
We can’t imagine that these experts really thought through the possible consequences for the young woman had it gone wrong, or considered the potential public relations disaster this episode presented.
How could they possibly spin leaving this woman clutching a tree for dear life for three hours while wolves circled below? And what did they think the optics would be if she lost her grip or otherwise made contact before rescuers arrived?
We hope that if a similar situation presents itself that WDFW won’t hesitate to do the right thing. When wolves endanger humans, pick what’s best for the humans every time.