SALEM, Oregon – The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has moved Eastern Oregon up to Phase III of the Wolf Management Plan. That comes after seven or more breeding pairs of wolves were documented in the region that’s east of U.S. highways 97, 20, and 395 for the three years ending on Dec. 31, 2016.
A breeding pair is defined as two adult wolves that produce at least two pups that survive through the end of the year. The eight packs with breeding pairs in 2016 were the Meacham and Walla Walla in Umatilla County; Catherine in Union County; and the Snake River, Chesnimnus, Wenaha, and Minam in Wallowa County; as well as a group of unnamed wolves in the Imnaha Wildlife Management Unit of Wallowa County.
“Moving into Phase III is a significant milestone towards the recovery of gray wolves in Oregon,” ODFW Wolf Biologist Russ Morgan said. “It shows how successful wolves can be in this state. In just nine years under existing management, we have gone from no packs of wolves to multiple packs and an expanding distribution.”
In addition to taking a wolf census, ODFW biologists have placed radio collars on 14 wolves in seven groups over the winter. On Feb. 24, OR50 was collared in the Imnaha Wildlife Management Unit, making it the state’s 50th collared wolf. The data collected from that wolf will help ODFW learn more about the unnamed group of wolves. They are trying to determine if it’s a new pack or a pack that shifted its home range into the area previously occupied by the Imnaha Pack.
ODFW staff is now tabulating the results of its annual year-end survey of wolves. The 2016 Wolf Annual Report will be presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission at its meeting in Klamath Falls on April 21.
Phase III continues to focus on conservation of wolves while addressing instances of wolf-human conflict. This includes the continued emphasis of using non-lethal deterrents, and the use of controlled killing of wolves in certain situations. It also expands the options to livestock producers for investigating potential wolf depredations of livestock.
The plan states that controlled take of wolves can be allowed in two specific circumstances with ODFW approval. They are if wolves are determined to be causing declines in the population of deer and elk, or in specific cases of chronic livestock depredation.
“These Phase III provisions do not replace good faith efforts at non-lethal solutions to wolf conflicts,” Morgan says. “Take of wolves can only be considered as a management response in very specific situations and there are no plans for controlled take at this time.”
Under Phase III, either the ODFW or USDA Wildlife Services can confirm wolf depredations in Eastern Oregon. Lethal removal of wolves will be decided by ODFW based on the current rigorous evidence-based investigation process. USDA Wildlife Services will not assist in the lethal removal of wolves and cannot expand its role in depredation investigations until it has evaluated its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Western Oregon remains in Phase I of the Wolf Plan, with protections that match those implemented when wolves were listed as a state endangered species. Wolves west of U.S. highways 395, 78 and 95 also remain listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.