Zach Urness, Statesman Journal
At least two gray wolves have been confirmed in the Mount Hood area, marking the first time a pair of the predators have settled in the northern Cascade Range since they began returning to Oregon in the 2000s.
The wolves were documented on the east side of Mount Hood National Forest, and in White River Wildlife Area in Wasco County, Oregon Department of Wildlife officials announced Tuesday.
Several lone wolves have been spotted in that area in the past, likely dispersing elsewhere, ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.
But this is the first multiple wolves have been confirmed traveling together in Oregon’s northern Cascades. ODFW trail cameras captured pictures of the wolves in early January.
“They’re not collared, so we only have a very general idea about where they are,” Dennehy said. “We want to emphasize that it’s rare for humans to have problems with wolves and there’s no reason to be alarmed.”
Wildlife groups cheered the announcement as a potential landmark in the return of wolves to the state.
“This is another important milestone in the return of this native animal to our landscape,” said Arran Robertson , spokesman for the environmental group Oregon Wild.
“It signals a hope that future generations in Oregon’s wildest and most beloved places, from Mount Hood wilderness to the Three Sisters, will once again hear the howls of these iconic animals of the American West.”
Wolves have been spreading to western Oregon gradually, most following in the footsteps of OR-7 to the state’s southern areas.
In its last wolf report, the state tallied 112 known wolves, including around eight in southwest Oregon. The real number is likely higher; ODFW is due to release its most recent report on wolf numbers in March.
The news comes after a contentious 2017 for the animals in Oregon.
Three wolves were killed during the last year and a half in southwest Oregon, prompting multiple investigations and a total of $40,000 in reward money for information on the unnatural deaths.
In November, a hunter shot and killed a wolf in self-defense in northeast Oregon’s Union County. The incident caused an uproar, leading to more than a dozen conservation groups urging Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to reopen the investigation.
Brown said she had confidence in the findings of state agencies in the matter.
While conservation groups celebrated Tuesday’s announcement, some hunting groups said wolves getting established in the area could bring problems.
“This is troubling news,” said Dominic Aiello, president of the Oregon Outdoor Council. “ODFW feeds deer and elk during the winter in the White River management unit to help reduce agricultural damage. With such large numbers congregating, wolves could cause significant winter mortality.”
It’s a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act to kill a gray wolf in the western two-thirds of Oregon, punishable by a $50,000 fine and a year in jail.