Wolf packs in Northeastern Oregon grow, officials say

By March 2, 2014 February 15th, 2016 No Comments

March 01–FYI

To learn more about Oregon wolves or to register for the update program, click here.

WESTON — Local wolf populations saw increases of 33 percent in 2013 and the addition of two new packs.

An annual report released last month by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated the current wolf population in Northeastern Oregon at 64 wolves, with eight packs disbursed through Wallowa, Umatilla, Baker and Union counties.

But “the actual number of wolves in Oregon is likely greater than this minimum estimate,” the report said.

“Even though there are very difficult issues we deal with, really there is change occurring. And many people are beginning to understand what it means to live in areas with wolves,” wolf coordinator Russ Morgan said.

Locally, the Umatilla River and Walla Walla packs make up 15 of the 64 wolves that were counted using radio collars, remote cameras, sightings, tracks and DNA sampling of scat.

The Walla Walla pack, discovered in 2011, was reported to have at least nine members that roam the northeast corner of Umatilla County and parts of Walla Walla County. Last year the pack produced five surviving pups.

No livestock depredations were recorded to have been caused by the Walla Walla Pack in 2013.

The Umatilla pack, which was also first discovered in 2011, currently consists of an estimated six wolves. In 2013, the pack was responsible for depredations that included five dead sheep, one injured sheep and one dead goat.

Umatilla County had the second-highest payoff to ranchers who suffered livestock losses — $3,975.

Wallowa County, which is the hunting grounds for the Wenaha, Minam, Imnaha and Snake River packs, had the highest depredation costs — $10,693.

Wallowa County rancher and Oregon Cattlemen’s Association Wolf Committee member Todd Nash said it comes as no surprise to him that local wolf population are doing well. And he noted studies of wolf populations in Montana and Idaho showed packs can double their numbers every three years.

What is unknown to him and other ranchers is what will happen when Oregon wolves grow numerous enough to where they no longer qualify as a protected species.

“I see it headed for lawsuits for a long time. I see the environmental community slapping lawsuit after lawsuit on us,” Nash said.

He added that local ranchers are now forced to keep near perfect count of their herds if they expect to make claims on missing livestock, where no remains are found.

Baker County was the only other county where ranchers received depredation payments — $1,400.

The total depredation reimbursements paid out by the state for 2013 came to $16,063.

The state also funds a number of prevention programs such as paying for installation of electric flagged fencing, and last year it paid $46,757 for prevention programs.

Last year also saw the resolution of a legal dispute between cattle ranchers and wolf supporters, with ranchers winning the right to dispose of a wolf that was actively chasing or harming livestock.

“I guess you could be optimist and say there was a gain there in some of the language, but it is largely ineffective,” Nash said, adding that chances of spotting a wolf hunting livestock is extremely rare.

One of the preventative programs the state offers to ranches is a GPS locating program. Wildlife officials uses the same GPS collars for tracking wolves to alert ranchers of their presence. According to the report, however, the alerting system doesn’t work in remote areas and the alert notices are often sent to ranchers after the wolves have left the region.

“It is largely ineffective,” Nash said. “It is kind of like they are letting us know where the haystack is but they don’t let us know where the needle is. And then it is after the fact.”

Interest in wolves also grew last year, with 75 percent more people registering for automatic updates of wolf activity for a total of 3,233.

To learn more about Oregon wolves or to register for the update program, click here.

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