Document includes current status of wolf counts, wolf packs and mortalities in Oregon, as well as depredations and management plans and implementation
According to the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management 2019 Annual Report, State wildlife biologists counted 158 wolves in Oregon this past winter, a 15% increase over last year’s count of 137.
According to the news release in April 2020,this annual count is based on verified wolf evidence (like visual observations, tracks, and remote camera photographs) and is considered the minimum known wolf count, not an estimate of how many wolves are in Oregon. The actual number of wolves in Oregon is likely higher, as not all individual wolves present in the state are located during the winter count.
A total of 22 packs were documented during the count, up from 16 packs in 2018. A pack is defined as four or more wolves traveling together in winter. Nine other groups of 2-3 wolves were also identified. Nineteen of Oregon’s wolf packs successfully reproduced and had at least two adults and two pups that survived through the end of 2019, making them “breeding pairs,” a 27% increase over last year’s number.
“The state’s wolf population continues to grow and expand its range, with three new packs in the Blue Mountains south of Interstate 84,” said Roblyn Brown, ODFW wolf coordinator.
OR7, the breeding male of the Rogue Pack, was photographed in the fall but was not documented during the winter count, though his mate is still present in the pack area with three wolves. No reproduction for the pack was documented during 2019. OR7 is estimated to be 11 years old (born in 2009).
“We don’t know if OR7 has died, but it would be reasonable to assume considering his age, which is old for a wolf in the wild,” said Brown. “It is natural for packs to change over time as individual wolves are born, disperse or die.”
In addition to this information, the Rogue Pack also depredated nine times in 2019. This pack resides in an area in Oregon where the wolves are federally protected. When there are repeated depredations by a pack in these parts of the state, Elizabeth Materna, public affairs specialist with Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, clarified federal guidelines.
“Gray wolves in Oregon are still federally listed as endangered west of highways 395-78-95, which is roughly the western two-thirds of the state, where it is illegal to kill a federally listed species without a federal permit,” said Materna. “Both U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) have permits to trap and collar wolves. However, neither agency has a permit to intentionally kill a wolf in western Oregon where wolves remain under federal protection.”
She added that the USFWS, ODFW and USDA Wildlife Services work closely with ranchers who experience multiple losses to implement a variety of non-lethal measures to deter wolf depredation. She went on to say that the Rogue Pack has habituated to most of the non-lethal deterrent methods with one ranch experiencing the majority of depredations from this pack. In October 2019, fencing was installed with funding from USFWS, Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, and a Go Fund Me campaign set up by a local NGO. Since then there have been no depredations at this ranch. There have not been any depredations by the Rogue Pack so far in 2020.
Materna said that USFWS and ODFW work closely together to manage wolves in Oregon and “we are making significant progress in recovery. Additional guidance for implementation of Oregon’s wolf conservation and management plan in the federally listed portion of the state is outlined in a Federal/State Coordination Strategy for Implementation of Oregon’s Wolf Plan (2019) — an appendix in the most recent ODFW Annual Wolf Report.”
“Ranchers can qualify for funding in areas where there are repeated depredations,” indicated Materna. “The wolf depredation compensation and prevention grant program proactively minimize wolf-livestock conflict and assist livestock producers experiencing wolf-related losses. The Oregon Department of Agriculture implements the wolf depredation compensation program and funds are distributed through counties and local committees.”
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed 16 wolf depredations of livestock, down 43% from the 28 confirmed last year. Confirmed losses (livestock killed or euthanized) in 2019 were one adult cow, one steer, 11 calves, six sheep, and one livestock protection dog. In addition to the confirmed losses, one calf was confirmed injured by wolves.
The report indicated less than 30% of packs that were present in 2019 depredated on livestock. Five packs each depredated one time, and one pack depredated twice. The majority of Oregon’s wolf depredation was attributed to the Rogue Pack, which depredated nine times in 2019.
Depredation in the portion of Oregon that ODFW manages (east of the Highways 395-78-95 boundary) did not meet a level where lethal removal was requested or authorized. No wolves were lethally removed by ODFW in 2019 for chronic depredation.
A rancher’s voice
In all phases of wolf management, Oregon’s Wolf Plan mandates that non-lethal efforts are undertaken to address conflict before lethal removal is considered. In 2019, those measures included removing attractants, hazing, electrified fladry, fence maintenance, radio-activated guard boxes, increased human presence, range riders and other husbandry practices.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s compensation program awarded grants of $178,319 to 11 counties in 2019. Funds were used for direct payment to livestock producers for confirmed depredations and missing livestock, but most were used for non-lethal preventative measures to reduce depredation.
For some ranchers, non-lethal efforts, even with modest grants for preventative measures, are not logistically or fiscally possible. Cattle can be spread out over thousands of acres, making these efforts difficult and costly. For some ranchers, like Tom and Beverly Wolverton in Post, Oregon, extra costs in an already volatile market are not fiscally possible for them to break even and remain solvent.
The Wolvertons have more than 8,000 acres — and cattle are spread out on their acreage. The ranch is the third oldest operating ranch in Crook County and has been in Beverly Wolverton’s family (Beoletto family) for more than 100 years.
“The cattle market was in the dumps last fall, and as far as any extra revenue, it just doesn’t exist,” Tom Wolverton commented.
He added that equipment parts, maintenance and hay costs are high right now.
“We couldn’t hire people for anything if we wanted to,” he added regarding presence and range riders.
ODFW, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Wildlife Services continue to support livestock producers in their non-lethal efforts with technical advice, supplies and assistance with implementation.
“The wolf population continues to expand into areas where livestock producers have less experience with wolves. I have been impressed with the ingenuity of Oregon’s ranchers as they look for and implement new tools and techniques to reduce the vulnerability of their livestock on a landscape with wolves,” said Brown. “We appreciate all livestock producers for their efforts to co-exist with wolves.”
Other Oregon wolf packs and breeding pairs
According to the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management 2019 Annual Report, a new breeding pair, the Indigo Pack, was confirmed in eastern Lane and Douglas counties, bringing the total number of packs in Western Oregon to three.
Eight new packs were designated, and all are breeding pairs: Bear Creek, Clark Creek, Cornucopia, Desolation, Five mile, Heppner, Indigo and Keating. Three packs that previously qualified as packs, no longer have four individuals (Snake River, South Snake, and Wildcat).
Seven wolf mortalities were documented during the year, including one of disease and five wolves struck by vehicles. In March, a livestock producer in Baker County lawfully shot one of four wolves that was chasing his herding dog close to his house. (Under Wolf Plan rules, livestock producers may shoot a wolf “caught in the act” of chasing livestock or livestock working dogs.) No cases of unlawful wolf killing were documented in 2019, and a case from 2016 involving the shooting death of OR28 in Lake County was resolved with a guilty plea.
Biologists documented 15,716 wolf location data points by radio collar or other methods including remote camera surveillance and aerial, track and howling surveys. Of those, 71% of locations for resident wolves were on public lands, 26% on private lands, and 3% on tribal lands.
Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management 2019 Annual Report released in April 2020 can be found at odfw.com/wolves.
The wolf depredation compensation and prevention grant program proactively minimize wolf-livestock conflict and assist livestock producers experiencing wolf-related losses. The Oregon Department of Agriculture implements the wolf depredation compensation program and funds are distributed through counties and local committees.Additional information about the program can be found on the ODA webpage https://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/ISCP/Pages/WolfDepredation.aspx