Report: Wolves thriving in Oregon, livestock attacks rise sharply

Dan Stahler / UCLA

The number of wolves counted in Oregon rose 10 percent over the previous year, but depredation is rising much more rapidly.

Posted: Apr 8, 2019 2:33 PM
Updated: Apr 8, 2019 3:38 PM

SALEM, Ore. — The state of Oregon's wolf population continues to thrive, but the number of attacks on livestock has seen a sharp increase in the past year, according to a new report from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW).

The agency conducted its most recent count of Oregon's wolves over this past winter. Wildlife officials counted 137 wolves — a 10 percent increase over the previous year's count of 124.

Highlights from the ODFW wolf report:

  • Wolf numbers and reproduction increased in western Oregon. A new pack (White River Pack) reproduced and was designated a breeding pair for 2018, joining the Rogue Pack. The Indigo group of at least three wolves was also found in the Umpqua National Forest.
  • Three collared wolves dispersed to California and one to Idaho.
  • About 13% of known wolves in Oregon were monitored via radio collar.
  • Biologists documented more than 15,000 wolf location data points. 53% of these locations were on public land, 40% on private and 7% on tribal.
  • The breeding female of Oregon’s oldest known pack, the Wenaha Pack, disappeared and no reproduction has been documented in the past year. She was at least 10 years old (old for a wolf living in the wild), and she appeared to be in poor condition in the most recent photos.

The count is based on "verified wolf evidence" from a combination of visual observations, tracks, and photos taken by remote cameras. This number is considered the minimum for how many wolves actually live in the state.

"The actual number of wolves in Oregon is likely higher, as not all individuals or groups of wolves present in the state are located during the winter count," ODFW said in a statement.

Wildlife officials believe that they have found evidence for 16 different packs, up from 12 packs in 2017. A "pack" is defined as four or more wolves traveling together during the winter months. ODFW also identified eight smaller groups of 2-3 wolves.

One of those recent finds is the so-called Indigo group recently discovered in the Umpqua National Forest between Douglas and Lane counties.

“The state’s wolf population continues to grow and expand its range, now into the central Oregon Cascade Mountains too,” said Roblyn Brown, ODFW Wolf Coordinator.

Despite a documented 10 percent increase in the number of wolves, depredation — or incidents in which wolves attack and kill livestock — has increased dramatically.

Confirmed incidents of depredation rose 65 percent over the previous year, ODFW found, with 28 known incidents.

"A total of 17 calves, one llama and two livestock guardian dogs were lost to wolves and an additional 13 calves were injured," ODFW said.

ODFW found that three wolf packs were responsible for the vast majority of depredations — Southern Oregon's Rogue Pack chief among them.

CLICK HERE for our latest story on the Rogue Pack and a rancher's struggle with livestock losses.

"While known wolf numbers have increased considerably over the last nine years, depredations and livestock losses have not increased at the same rate," ODFW admitted.

Still, the agency has continue to work closely with farmers and ranchers in an effort to deal with the threat of wolves without having to kill any of the animals.

“As the wolf population has expanded into new areas in Oregon, livestock producers have adjusted the way they do business to remove bone piles and incorporate non-lethal measures that can reduce the vulnerability of their livestock to depredation by wolves and other predators,” said Brown. “We extend our thanks and appreciation for their efforts.”

ODFW offers grant funds to producers who have lost livestock to wolves, and for the installation of non-lethal deterrent methods — but as one local rancher intimates, these countermeasures may soon fall short if the trend continues.

In rare cases, the agency has approved lethal methods for deterring wolves from preying on livestock when non-lethal measures have repeatedly failed — a contingency that is provided under state law.

“We’re thrilled to see more wolves and more wolf packs in Oregon,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re working with the state to ensure nonlethal measures to reduce the likelihood of livestock loss are prioritized over killing wolves. If nonlethal measures are used, the wolf population will continue to grow, including in western Oregon, where wolves are just beginning to return.”

While the vast majority of Oregon's wolf packs frequent the northeastern corner of the state, the Rogue Pack has established itself in the southwest (Jackson and Klamath counties). Recent evidence suggests that there are now additional wolf groups in the south and western areas of the state.

For more on the ODFW wolf report, you can view the entire document here.

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