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The alpha female of the Minam Pack is captured in this photograph by a game camera in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
by KATY NESBITT / The Observer
WALLOWA — More wolves were confirmed living in the Wallowas last week, making the Minam Pack the sixth breeding pair documented for 2012.
Wallowa County’s Imnaha Pack has dominated the headlines for the past three years because of their frequent sightings in the Wallowa Valley and for repeated livestock losses attributed to them. Meanwhile, many other wolves migrating from the east remain elusive and are staying in the high country.
In 2006, Russ Morgan, wolf biologist for the state, discovered the Wenaha Pack — the first resident wolf pack in Oregon since 1946. Since then they have maintained a range in the far northern part of the state, straddling the Wallowa and Union county borders.
The Snake River Pack was discovered in the summer of 2010 by hunters who caught images of them on a game camera. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed the pack was a resident of the remote region high above the Snake River. This year their off spring adds them to the list of successful breeding pairs.
The Umatilla Pack’s range is primarily Umatilla County, while the Walla Walla Pack roams between Umatilla and Union counties.
The Minam Pack was first discovered last June when a photo of a lactating female wolf was captured on a game camera in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Last week, Morgan downloaded pictures of the pack from a remote camera showing evidence of two pups — evidence necessary for a pack to be considered a successful breeding pair — according to the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management plan.
Reports of wolves abound and keep Morgan and area biologists busy following up reported sightings from Wallowa County to Central Oregon.
“We receive lots of reports in lots of areas in northeastern Oregon,” Morgan said. “One of the most challenging parts is separating the hearsay from actual reports.”
A recent wolf sighting near La Grande was reported around 11 p.m. on Feb. 17 when Kyler Braseth said he saw wolves in the headlights of his pickup while feeding cattle on Mt. Glen Road.
“In the high beams I saw a silhouette that looked like a deer from a distance,” Braseth said. “I jackknifed the pickup toward it and saw two black (wolves) and one gray wolf. They didn’t like (the lights) and took off running toward Hunter Road.”
Three days later he said he heard what he thought were wolf howls from his home three miles from the sighting.
Morgan said biologists have spent a considerable amount of time looking for wolf sign around La Grande, but haven’t documented anything yet.
“Our job is to try and figure out what information is out there and pick apart the reports,” Morgan said. “Wolves could be anywhere; that is why we take these reports seriously with an expanding wolf population.”
Next month, Morgan presents a report of Oregon’s documented wolves to the Oregon Wildlife Commission. Though any data collected between now and then could be added, he said it’s getting to be the time of year when it is hard to determine pups because of their size — by now most pups are 10 months old and may not have developed into their full weight, but their height is that of a full-grown wolf.
This year’s list of breeding pairs starts the countdown toward wolf recovery. When seven breeding pairs of wolves are present in Eastern Oregon for three consecutive years, the agency will consider delisting them from the state’s endangered species list.