State biologists say Oregon’s gray wolf population may have reached its ecological limit in the eastern third of the state and that packs are likely to spread west and south in greater numbers.
Those comments, made at a meeting of the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, came as Colorado released five wolves trapped from Oregon as part of a historic reintroduction program.
Roblyn Brown, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlifes wolf coordinator, told ranchers and conservationists last week that about 200 gray wolves in roughly 25 packs call Oregon home. He said their numbers have declined in recent years because most of the wolves live in northeastern Oregon, an area where the species is crowded out. Wolves first recolonized their native habitat there in 2009 after hunting and harassment had wiped them out of Oregon for 50 years.
The wildlife agency counted 178 wolves in the state in 2022, up from 175 in 2021 and 173 in 2020, although officials say this is an undercount. Their numbers have declined in recent years after a decade. Wolf packs took root in central and southwestern Oregon, including a pack in Jackson County that became notorious for stealing cattle.
“We’re going to start seeing more wolves in the next few years in other areas of Oregon,” Brown said.
But conservationists worry that the agency killed many wolves as the prey packs more and more livestock.
Illegal killings also continue to plague wolves. The US Fish and Wildlife Service offers a $26,500 reward for information leading to convictions for two separate wolf killings in November, including one in Jackson County. Wolf hunting is illegal in Oregon, and Jackson County’s wolf is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, as are others in central and western Oregon.
At the Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, Brown said however that a sustainable wolf population is a huge achievement.
He said nearly 90% of adult wolves are rescued each year in Oregon which is a higher rate than other Western states like Idaho and Montana that allow wolf hunting. simultaneously. Both states have a higher number of wolves than Oregon.
Derek Broman, the agency’s game program manager, said some of the environmental challenges expected to plague Oregon’s wolves are not really issues. Conservationists are concerned about the lack of genetic diversity in different wolf packs, which can make wolves more susceptible to canine diseases and disturbances in their environment.
“Some of the threats to conservation are not what they were five years ago,” Broman said.
John Williams of the Oregon Cattlemens Association said trust is growing between ranchers and wildlife managers thanks to a more efficient process for investigating livestock killings that remain a source of concern for a small group of ranchers. who lost cattle, sheep and goats. The agency also streamlined its process for approving the killing of predatory wolves, he said.
“We are encouraged by the direction, he told the commission.
This year’s Oregon Legislature was also released $1 million more to compensate ranchers for livestock losses, more than in any year since lawmakers created the state program in 2011, according to the Capital Press.
The plan remains the same
After hearing from wildlife officials, ranchers, hunters and conservationists, the commission decided not to reform the state’s wolf management plan, a hard-fought set of rules and regulations that took four years to scrap because of disagreements about state-sanctioned wolf killing and livestock raiding.
The chances of both are increasing. Investigators confirmed that wolves killed 76 privately owned livestock last year, compared to 16 in 2019.
The agency has authorized the killing of 16 wolves so far this year, according to agency data compiled by the Western Environmental Law Center, a conservation advocacy group. That’s up from an average of fewer than four wolves per year from 2019 to 2022. The agency killed six gray wolves in six weeks this summer, to the chagrin of conservationists.
Sristi Kamal, deputy director of the Western Environmental Law Center, said the wildlife agency is relying too much on legal wolf killing to protect livestock.
They now choose carefully to make the fatal, he said.
Holly Tuers-Lance, a state wolf biologist, said during the meeting that attacking livestock is a learned skill for some wolves and that two-thirds of Oregon’s wolf packs didn’t know to do it.
According to the agency’s data, only eight livestock producers experienced half of all known livestock predictions. He said the data will help wolf managers be intentional about where to reduce conflict between wolves and communities.
Fish and wildlife officials say they only allow the killing of a wolf if a rancher can document at least two incidents of livestock theft within a nine-month period, and after other methods have failed to preventing wolves, such as building a fence, enlisting livestock dogs or guarding cattle. .
Additionally, wolves are off limits for lethal removal in most of the state because packs outside of eastern Oregon are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.
Tuers-Lance said the federal law hinders the agency’s efforts to protect livestock from the rogue wolf pack in southern Oregon, which has preyed on livestock more than 60 times from 2016 to 2022, according to agency data.
He said that experiments with non-lethal deterrents and new technology are not working, and ranchers are spending an unsustainable amount of time trying to prevent conflict.
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