By JEFF BARNARD
Oregon has a new wolf pack in the Hells Canyon area along the Idaho border, and two members of the state's original pack have split off to roam new territory in the central part of the state -- developments that move the state closer to taking wolves off the state endangered species list.
State wolf coordinator Russ Morgan said Tuesday that tracks show at least five wolves in the Snake River unit, near the northern end of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area on the Idaho border. Photos show at least one pup. Morgan emphasized that they have only been able to document five, and there could well be more.
Morgan said biologists have picked up scat samples and sent them off for genetic analysis to see where the new pack's members have come from -- Idaho or an existing Oregon pack.
This is the fourth pack to establish in Oregon since wolves introduced in Idaho started moving west in the 1990s. Once four packs produce two pups a year for three years running, the species can be taken off the state endangered species list, though protections would remain in place.
Meanwhile, radio collar tracking data shows two young males from the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon have gone west into Central Oregon. Two others went east to Idaho. The Imnaha pack was the first to produce pups and has become the most notorious because it is the only one to have preyed on livestock.
Two of the four remaining members are under a kill order from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Oregon Court of Appeals has put a temporary stay on the order while it considers a challenge from the conservation group Oregon Wild.
"Generally it's good news for wolf recovery in Oregon if ODFW or poachers don't shoot them," said Rob Klavins, of Oregon Wild. "This should provide the state an opportunity to refocus on conservation rather than killing wolves at the request of people who think the only good wolf is a dead wolf."
Oregon Cattlemen's Association President Bill Hoyt and northeastern Oregon rancher Todd Nash did not immediately return telephone calls for comment.
Morgan said there have been no reports of livestock attacks linked to the new Snake River pack or the two young wolves roaming Central Oregon.
The 3-year-old wolf known as OR-3 left the Imnaha pack in May. A tracking flight picked up his collar in July in Wheeler County and the Ochoco Mountains at the end of September.
The wolf known as OR-7 left the Imnaha pack Sept. 10 and has gone through six counties -- Baker, Grant, Harney, Crook, Deschutes and, most recently, Lake.
"Every time he shows up somewhere, within a week or two he is somewhere else," said Morgan. "There is no way to tell where he ends up. For all we know he may end up in California."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.