SALEM — Wildlife biologists successfully placed a GPS collar on a juvenile wolf in Western Oregon, seeking to learn more about the movements and territory of packs in the region.
The wolf, a 52-pound female, comes from the Indigo pack living in the Cascade Range of eastern Lane and Douglas counties. It was collared Sept. 26 by biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Umpqua National Forest.
Michelle Dennehy, ODFW spokeswoman, said it is the only wolf in Western Oregon with a working collar. The collar also has a biodegradable foam spacer so it will continue to fit as the wolf grows.
Wolves remain federally protected in Oregon west of highways 395, 78 and 95.
Oregon’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, which was last updated in June, identifies GPS collars as a tool to monitor wolf populations statewide. The information can be used to establish pack locations and assist in annual wolf population surveys.
For known wolfpacks, ODFW will attempt to collar at least one member with an emphasis on at least one breeding adult, according to the plan. Other members may also be collared if needed.
GPS data is also invaluable to local ranchers trying to protect their livestock from predator attacks.
Veril Nelson, a rancher in Oakland, Ore., and wolf committee co-chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said producers are required to use non-lethal measures, such as wildlife fences and range-riders, to keep wolves at bay.
“Especially in this area, where they’re still listed as an endangered species, that’s our only way of protecting our livestock,” Nelson said. “If we know where those wolves are, that’s going to help us be prepared.”
The Trump administration has proposed removing wolves from the federal endangered species list across the Lower 48 states. If that happens, wolves in Western Oregon will enter Phase I of the Oregon wolf plan, which sets strict limits on how and when wildlife managers can kill wolves that repeatedly prey on livestock.
Under Phase I, “chronic depredation” is defined as four confirmed attacks on livestock within six months. To enter Phase II, ODFW must document four wolfpacks that have produced pups for at least two years.
Nelson said GPS collars are crucial to measuring these benchmarks — especially in Western Oregon, where the forests are dense and thick with less open ground than east of the Cascades.
“I just think it’s real important,” Nelson said. “If we’re gonna have wolves, our wildlife agencies need to manage them.”
Collaring is not without its critics. Arran Robertson, spokesman for Oregon Wild, a Portland-based environmental group, said there are benefits to understanding more about wolves in Western Oregon, “but that comes with risks and trade-offs.”
“There is a chance that the wolf will be severely or injured or killed during the capturing and collaring process, or that the tracking information might be stolen or abused,” Robertson said.
Robertson pointed to the death of one wolf from the White River pack south of Mount Hood in November 2018. According to a necropsy, the animal was not shot or poisoned, but did have an injury to its front paw which officials said could have happened during the collaring process. The wolf was also reportedly very thin.
ODFW also estimates collaring costs about $2,000 to $7,000 per wolf, with an average lifespan of 18 months per collar.
The latest annual wolf survey shows that the Indigo group had three adult wolves as of early 2019. A trail camera photo taken Aug. 27 shows the group had at least four pups this year.
Statewide, Oregon had at least 137 known wolves as of the end of 2018.