Zach Urness, Salem Statesman Journal
The number of people coming across wolves in Oregon’s outdoors is gradually increasing as the carnivores continue to spread across the state.
Reports of seeing or hearing wolves have increased 54 percent since 2011, including 434 reports statewide in 2018, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
But this doesn’t need to be something scary, said Oregon wolf program coordinator Roblyn Brown. It’s all about people getting comfortable with the idea and knowing what steps to take if they come across a wolf in the wild.
“There are already a lot more encounters,” Brown said. “So, it’s happening now. But what we’re also hearing is that a lot of people aren’t sure how to process it — they’re not sure what’s going on because we’re so unfamiliar with wolves in this state.”
Brown gave the example of Minnesota, where wolves have maintained a population over 2,000 and are generally taken for granted.
“In Minnesota people are used to wolves — they’re not typically concerned because they’re familiar with them,” Brown said. “In Oregon, this is something new, and anything new, especially an animal that’s always been the ‘big bad wolf’ will lead to fear. But we really don’t need to be scared, it’s just about knowing how to process it.”
Brown and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have produced a video, and are increasingly talking about, how to handle an encounter with a wolf.
As Oregon’s human and wolf population both continue to grow, meetings are inevitable. Here are ideas on how to handle encounters for hikers, hunters and everyone who goes outside.
Two wolves from the Walla Walla pack in Umatilla County in 2017. (Photo: ODFW)
Where are wolves located?
The most likely place to have a wolf encounter is northeast Oregon, where the vast majority of the state’s animals reside.
They’re typically not found in the high mountains or towns, but in the elk and deer filled forests in between, Brown said.
“We’ve heard about them happening when people are hiking, hunting, berry picking, in a lot of different situations,” Brown said.
Wolves are also beginning to show up in increasing numbers near more populated areas in the forest around Mount Hood, Central Oregon and southwest Oregon.
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Let the wolf know you’re there
The most important part of a wolf encounter is to let the animal know you’re there, Brown said.
“It’s very possible that if you see a wolf, it doesn’t know you’re there,” Brown said. “It’s possible that it doesn’t see you or doesn’t smell you.”
Brown said waving your arms or talking should do the trick.
“In almost all circumstances — and this is my experience as well — once a wolf knows you’re there they’ll tuck tail, turn around and leave the area.”
The video showing a wolf encounter by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife intern Story Warren is instructive. She’s walking through the forest when a wolf trots out, completely oblivious.
“As the wolf moved in my direction, it was clear the wolf didn’t know I was there,” Warren says. “As it got closer, I said something quietly to alert the wolf. As soon as I did, the wolf stopped in its tracks trying to figure out what made the noise. It turned and ran as soon as it realized I was there. Running away is a wolf’s typical reaction to humans.”
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Brown said this was particularly relevant for hunters who are concealed from view, especially in areas rich in elk and deer.
What if they start making a ‘bark-howl’
If you’ve come across a wolf that’s protecting pups, or you’re near a den or other important area, a wolf might make a “bark-howl,” Brown said.
The video has audio of it, but the noise sounds a lot like a normal dog’s bark combined with occasional long howls, with a few rapid-fire barks in between.
“It’s a normal reaction when they’re concerned about something — but it’s not an aggressive thing,” Brown said. “You might hear it and never see the wolf. The best thing is to move out of the area. Don’t be worried. I’ve heard it multiple times and never felt concerned.”
It’s possible the wolf may follow a person out of the area at a distance, Warren said, “until they are out of the area that the wolves feel protective of, like a den or feeding site.”
Keep dogs close or leashed
A big variable in a wolf encounter is the presence of a dog.
Wolves are territorial to other canines, and will protect territory, especially if a dog wanders near pups or a site where wolves have killed prey.
“Wolves will protect their territory if they feel the dog is a threat,” Brown said.
The best thing people can do is keep their dog close and leashed.
“If the wolf associates the dog with the human, they should turn around and leave,” Brown said.
What if a wolf is being aggressive?
In the rare circumstance where a wolf has seen and smelled a human but still is approaching or being aggressive, Brown said people could take a number of actions including:
– Stay calm.
– Back away slowly while facing the animal.
– Leave the wolf a way to escape.
– Pick up small children without bending down.
– Raise your voice and speak firmly.
– If the wolf approaches or acts aggressively, wave your arms and make yourself look larger. Shout, make noise and throw any available objects.
– In the unlikely event that you are attacked by a wolf, fight back. Try to remain standing and use rocks, sticks, tools, camping gear and your hands to fend off the attack. Keep the animal away from your neck and head.
– Bear spray or mace is very effective at discouraging wolves
“We’re going to have more encounters,” Brown said. “The idea is to start getting comfortable with the idea. If you see a wolf, be excited about it. There’s no reason to be scared. You don’t need to change your behavior — watch from a distance and pay attention to what it might be telling you.”
Wolf reports from the public
The number of wolf reports from the public have increased with the state’s population. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife tracks public reports, which can include: scat, tracks, howling heard and sightings.
“Keep in mind that areas that have had wolves for quite some time no longer generate as many reports, since people are used to them there,” Brown said.
Wolf report numbers