Oregon wildlife officials announced on Monday that the state wolf population has grown by 36 percent last year. Conservative estimates now place wolf numbers at around 110, although experts suspect the real count is actually much higher. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) confirmed at least 11 breeding pairs with 33 pups surviving through to the end of last year.
“As predicted, Oregon’s wolf population has continued to expand its range and grow in number,” said Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator. “While northeast Oregon continues to have the highest number of wolves, there is also continued movement of wolves into southern Oregon.”
Wolves are a hot button issue in Oregon, much like in other states where the species has a significant population. Last year officials voted to remove wolves from the state’s list of endangered species, provoking protest from animal rights activists and a lawsuit to reinstate protections for the animal. Ranchers on the other hand, are concerned that eastern Oregon’s growing wolf numbers could prove to be a threat to their livelihood. There were nine confirmed cases of wolf depredation on livestock last year as well as two probable cases, totaling 14 animals killed, including one working dog. In contrast, the same number of depredation cases in 2014 left 32 animals dead, the highest in Oregon’s recent history.
“It’s really difficult to tell why depredations are down one year and up the next, and that trend could reverse at any time,” Morgan told the Statesman Journal. “I would say that many livestock producers have taken really good, non-lethal steps to minimize depredation and some of those efforts many be paying off.”
However, the number of wolves participating in attacks on livestock is worrying. The ODFW reported that at least 29 percent, or nearly a third, of wolf packs in Oregon have been involved in depredation of livestock. The majority of the cases occurred on private land during summer months, and the ODFW distributed $174,428 to address wolf-livestock conflict. Ranchers and their supporters are currently fighting to put a cap on how many wolves the ODFW should allow in the state.
“Other populations – deer, elk – they all have management objective levels and if they get above or below that, it’s incumbent upon ODFW to manage toward those numbers,” said Todd Nash, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, told The Oregonian. “That should be the case with wolves, as well.”
Oregon’s wolves originally came from nearby Idaho when the species was reintroduced there in 1995. Since then the wolves have claimed territory in parts of Baker, Grant, Jackson, Klamath, Lake, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties. Wolves from Oregon also reportedly established a pack in northern California as well.
Image courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife