By Katy Nesbitt
Wallowa Valley Online
ENTERPRISE, Ore – More than a decade after re-establishing territory in Oregon, most of the state’s wolves still reside in its northeastern corner.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2018 annual wolf report released April 8, 14 of the 16 known wolf packs range between the Snake River in Hells Canyon and the John Day River in central Grant County, accounting for 77 percent of the state’s 137 documented wolves.
A look at the report’s areas of known Wolf Activity map tells a fascinating story – the Wallowa Mountains and the northern Blue Mountains appear to be entirely inhabited by wolves. Narrow strips of irrigated cropland in Union and Umatilla counties and the grassland of the Zumwalt Prairie remain just outside of pack boundaries, yet over the last 11 years wolves have been recorded traveling through these farm and range lands to hunt and move between mountain ranges.
Roblyn Brown, the Department’s wolf coordinator, said wolves are prevalent in northeastern Oregon because of the proximity to Idaho where they were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996. She also credited wolf pack expansion in the Wallowa and Blue mountains to the habitat and high population of deer and elk.
“Wolves will continue to move into Oregon and recolonize other areas that are forested and have adequate prey populations,” Brown said.
Wallowa County has long had the highest wolf concentration.
This year three new wolf pack’s were identified – the Wildcat Pack in the Sled Springs wildlife unit, a new Chesnimnus Pack using both the Chesnimnus and Sled Springs wildlife units, and a new South Snake Pack using the Snake River and Pine Creek wildlife units bordering Baker County.
Monitoring wolves takes a concerted effort by state and federal biologists who follow tracks, conduct howling surveys, interview eyewitnesses, scan photographic evidence and download information from radio collars.
Collars offer a wealth of information that helps biologists track individual and pack movement and livestock producers protect their herds. In 2018 14 wolves were fitted with radio collars. Over the course of the year data was collected from a total of 27 collared wolves in 15 groups.
At the end of 2018, 18 collars were still working tracking seven packs, five small groups of two to three wolves, and two lone wolves – all in northeastern Oregon.
Through collar data and surveys, the Department collected 15,836 wolf location data points statewide – 53 percent of those were on public land, 40 percent on private, and 7 percent on tribal lands.
Brown said local biologists monitor GPS-collared resident wolves and those traveling through their district.
“If a local biologist sees a cluster of GPS points, or sometimes a single point, near a calving or wintering pasture he will contact the livestock producer,” Brown said.
Brown said she advises ranchers to keep in close contact with their district biologists regarding specific instances when wolves are near livestock.
“If a producer is trying to decide which pastures to use when, they can learn from the biologist if wolves are near at those times,” Brown said.
Livestock injuries and losses to wolves increased 65 percent in 2018 over the previous year – biologists confirmed a total of 28 incidences. In 2017 only 17 investigations resulted in confirmed losses or injuries to wolves.
Three packs contributed to the majority of the depredations in 2018. The Pine Creek Pack in Baker County killed four calves and injured seven. Three members of the pack were killed to quell the chronic loss.
The Chesnimnus Pack in northern Wallowa County killed two calves and injured three. The owner of the livestock was issued a limited duration kill permit, but did not kill any wolves.
The Rogue Pack near Crater Lake was responsible for the loss of 10 calves and a guard dog in 2018, but no lethal measures are allowed because the federal Endangered Species Act protects wolves in the western two-thirds of the state.
In 2011, the Oregon Legislature created a fund to compensate livestock producers for wolf-caused loss and injury. This year the state fund was maxed out when county compensation committees asked for more money than available.
Oregon Department of Agriculture released $29,037 for dead and injured livestock and dogs, the entire amount requested by participating counties. Baker County received the most – $10,634.
However, compensation for missing livestock and dogs was nowhere close to what the counties asked – of the $133,259 requested the state gave out $16,887.
Prevention funding, otherwise known as non-lethal deterrents, also fell short. The participating counties asked for $337,862 combined, but only received $65,400 to help pay for range riders, radio receivers, noise makers, electrified flagging and blow up dummies used at car lots.
To read the entire report visit https://dfw.state.or.us/Wolves/docs/oregon_wolf_program/2018_Annual_Wolf_Report_FINAL.pdf.