WINSTON – They are being quiet about it, but wolves are gradually venturing into Western Oregon.
That was part of the message delivered by state and federal officials during a presentation Thursday evening at the annual Spring Livestock Conference. A timeline is not being predicted for the permanent settlement of the four-legged animal in Western Oregon, but there was consensus that eventually wolves would take up residence in the Cascade Mountains and then probably in the Coast Range.
The 50 or so livestock producers in attendance at the conference held in the Winston Community Center were in agreement.
“Wolves are on their way, the growth curve of their population shows that,” said Tod Lum, the Douglas District wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“It’s just a matter of time before they get here,” said Paul Wolf, the supervisor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services program in Douglas County.
“It’ll just take a little bit of time,” he added, knocking on wood.
Since gray wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and Idaho about 20 years ago, their population has reportedly grown to an estimated 1,600 to 1,800 animals in the northern Rocky Mountain states and the Pacific Northwest. Wolves were first reported moving across Hell’s Canyon and the Snake River from Idaho to Oregon in 2008. It was estimated that by the end of 2015 there were 77 wolves in 15 packs in Oregon, most of the packs in northeastern Oregon, but also a handful in the southern Cascades and the Siskiyou Mountains.
The Rogue pack to the south of Crater Lake is the closest to Douglas County.
John Stephenson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, said the forested Cascades in eastern Douglas County are good habitat for wolves because those mountains also have deer and elk populations and their fawns and calves are main food sources for the predators.
Individual wolves have already been in that part of the county, passing through during their travels. OR7, a radio-collared male wolf from the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon, was in the county’s Cascades a couple years ago as it moved between Southern Oregon and Northern California. It was the first wolf recorded on the west side of the Cascades since 1947. OR33 from the Imnaha pack traveled south to the LaPine area and then on toward the Siskiyou Mountains and Ashland. OR28 from the Mount Emily pack in north central Oregon traveled 450 miles to the south through the Cascades and the Siskyous.
More recently, the OR33 wolf was reportedly seen near the Lemolo Lake-Highway 138 junction in the Cascades in eastern Douglas County. Then last October, a wolf, possibly OR33, was seen about 10 miles east of Roseburg. Those are considered “credible, but good unconfirmed sightings.” To be a credible sighting, the animal or physical evidence must be photographed and turned into an ODFW office.
Western Oregon ranchers are concerned about the arrival of wolves because they’ll be one more possible predator on their livestock, especially targeting newborn calves and lambs. Ranchers must already deal with coyotes, cougars, bears, eagles and ravens.
There have been confirmed cases of livestock mortalities by wolves in northeastern Oregon and in Rocky Mountain states.
Veril Nelson, a cattle rancher east of Sutherlin and co-chair of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association wolf committee, said one of the OCA’s biggest concerns is that in western Oregon the wolf remains protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and even if a wolf is seen killing a calf, there is nothing the rancher can do about it.
“The association would like to see the wolf taken off the endangered list,” he said, noting the animal is already off the state’s endangered list. “We’re going to be lobbying at the federal level for that.”
Nelson said the environmental groups “are pushing for and expressing they do not want wolves to be hunted, regardless of their population.” Nelson has seen photos of wolf attacks on calves and he describes it as “bite, bite, bite, bite and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The Oregon Wolf Plan is currently being reviewed. Stakeholders in the wolf plan met in Salem in March and made recommendations on how to revise the plan that was first written in 2008. Those recommendations will be presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission at an April 21 meeting in Klamath Falls.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, “The goal of the plan is to ensure the conservation of gray wolves as required by Oregon law while protecting the social and economic interests of all Oregonians. Minimizing wolf-livestock conflict and reducing livestock losses to wolves is an important part of the Wolf Plan.”
Suzanne Stone, the Northwest representative with Defenders of Wildlife and a resident of Boise, Idaho, was also a presenter at Thursday’s conference. She emphasized to the ranchers the use of non-lethal methods to discourage wolves from having confrontations with livestock. Those methods include having guard dogs live with the livestock, removing bone and carcass piles that attract predators, using sirens and air horns, hanging streamers on fences and increasing human presence around the livestock.
Stone said a large study area in Idaho with several thousand head of sheep used non-lethal methods consistently and had less livestock mortality due to wolves than an adjoining area that was inconsistent in using the same methods.
“Some people are interested in using the methods and want to protect their livestock the best way they can and others say they just don’t want them (wolves) here,” Stone said. “I think they will expand here, but probably not into urbanized areas. Wolves tend to avoid human contact.
“Western Oregon is going through the same thing Idaho and Montana did regarding wolves,” she said. “There’s so much misinformation out there about wolves. Don’t get waylaid and waste a lot of time and energy on rumors. Focus and work on preventive measures.”
Stone said the livestock on the smaller ranches of Western Oregon should be easier to protect from predators because cattle, sheep and goats can be pastured closer to barns and houses.
“Coyotes will still be the biggest predator to those ranchers,” she said.
Nelson said in some situations those non-lethal methods should be used, but “no tool is going to work for very long because those predators are smart and will adjust to get what they want.” He also emphasized that even if wolves don’t kill livestock, the predators can stress the domestic animals into lower conception rates and weight loss.
While livestock owners are concerned about the possibility of another predator targeting their animals, hunters are also concerned about wolves and their impact on deer and elk populations. Representatives of the Oregon Hunters Association and of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation were present at the Wolf Plan meeting in March and made their recommendations. Members of those two groups are concerned wolves will impact and decrease the number of deer and elk in the state.
Those who do frequent the outdoors, especially the Cascades, are reminded that if they do see an animal that they think is a wolf or see evidence of such an animal like a track or scat, take photos if possible, don’t disturb the possible evidence, mark the location and report the information to ODFW by calling its nearest office or going to its website and reporting the details online.