Oregon’s confirmed wolf population jumped to 110 at the end of 2015, and wolves continue to disperse from the northeast corner of the state and move into new territory.
The annual count, released last weekend by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, marks a 36 percent increase from the survey completed at the end of 2014. The population numbers represent only wolves that have been confirmed by biologists in the field; the actual number is always thought to be higher.
ODFW considers the growth and geographical spread of wolves to be a conservation success story. Livestock producers, who bear the stress and cost of cattle and sheep losses and of defensive measures, are critical of the state’s wolf recovery program.
However, groups such as the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association supported the ODFW Commission’s decision in November 2015 to remove gray wolves from Oregon’s list of endangered species. Wolves remain under federal endangered species protection in the western two-thirds of the state. The Oregon Wolf Plan, which governs how they are handled by ODFW, remains in effect.
Some details from the report:
• 33 pups born in 2015 survived until the end of the year.
• The state now has at least 11 breeding pairs, up from nine.
• Wolves killed 10 sheep, three calves and one herd dog in 2015, and two other calves and one lamb were injured. Two cows and 30 sheep were confirmed killed by wolves in 2014. Many other livestock attacks are not confirmed under ODFW’s investigation protocol, and producers believe actual losses are much higher. They say livestock often disappear in wolf country and can’t be accounted for.
• The state paid $174,428 to 10 counties for wolf work in 2015. Most of it, $119,390, went for measures to prevent wolf-livestock conflict. Another $14,018 was paid directly to livestock producers to compensate them for confirmed losses.
• Seven wolves were confirmed dead during the year. Three were illegally shot; a pair were found dead of unknown cause; a 5-month-old pup apparently died of natural causes; and one found dead had a rodent in its stomach and traces of a harmful chemical in its system.
Of the wolves that were shot, one involved a Baker City man who shot a collared wolf in Grant County while he was hunting coyotes on private property. The man reported the shooting to ODFW and Oregon State Police, and recently pleaded guilty to killing an endangered animal. He was fined $1,000, ordered to pay another $1,000 restitution to ODFW, and his rifle was forfeited to the state.
The other two shootings are under investigation by state police.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s wolves continue to disperse south and southwest.
On Feb. 22 in Klamath County, in south central Oregon, a private landowner found a 500-pound heifer with a bite wound 10 inches long and five inches wide on its left hind leg. A collared wolf, OR-33, was in the area when the attack is believed to have occurred. The wolf left the Imnaha Pack in Northeastern Oregon in November 2015 and traveled through 13 counties.
California’s first wolf group, the Shasta Pack, has Oregon roots. A genotype analysis of scat showed it was “highly related” to the Imnaha Pack. That means at least Shasta’s breeding female was born into the Imnaha Pack, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife.