Gray wolves have returned to Douglas and Lane counties decades after bounty hunting completely removed the apex predator from the area.
On Thursday, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed activity of three gray wolves in the Umpqua National Forest north of Highway 138.
“It’s actually more than a sighting,” said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the ODFW. “We’ve had reports of wolves there for quite a while, but this is the first time we’ve confirmed multiple wolves that we believe are resident in the area, not just passing through.”
To be considered a pack of wolves, there must be four individuals, Dennehy said. These three wolves are called the Indigo group.
In late 2018, ODFW saw track evidence of multiple wolves in the area. Remote camera images captured three wolves on Feb. 20 in the Umpqua National Forest. Multiple incidents of the wolves indicates they are residing in the area for an extended period of time, Dennehy said.
The Indigo wolves — named for the local Indigo Wildlife Management Unit — are occupying an area that spans the Umpqua National Forest and the Willamette National Forest, according to ODFW.
Dennehy said it’s not surprising the wolves have returned to the Umpqua National Forest, because it’s part of their historic range and there’s plenty of food and habitat still available for them. Elk are a primary food source for the wolves.
The last wolf presented for bounty in Oregon came from the Umpqua National Forest in 1946, Dennehy said.
ODFW has been tracking several other groups and packs of wolves in the Oregon Cascades in recent years. The Rogue Pack, consisting of OR-7 — a breeding male, has been present around Crater Lake since 2014. There’s also the White River Pack on the eastern flank of Mt. Hood and the Silver Lake wolf.
Dennehy said ODFW produces an annual report of wolves in Oregon. An updated report in scheduled to come out next month and it will include new data from the Indigo group. ODFW expects to continue collecting data on the Indigo group, but Dennehy said she cannot predict how it might develop at this time.
Last week, President Donald Trump proposed removal of the gray wolf from its Endangered Species Act listing. ODFW plans to submit recommendations to the proposal in the coming months, Dennehy said.
Advocacy groups have criticized the proposal, stating gray wolf populations are still fragile.
“We are howling with excitement knowing that wolves have returned to the wild of the Umpqua and Willamette basins,” said Josh Laughlin, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands. “We must do all we can to ensure this fragile population is safeguarded and recovery is achieved.”