SALEM — Oregon’s wolf population grew almost 10% during 2020, and 20 of the state’s 22 wolf packs live in the northeast corner of the state.
Those are among the statistics in the annual wolf report the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released Wednesday, April 21. The report is based on wolf statistics at the end of 2020.
ODFW officials confirmed at least 173 wolves were in the state, an increase of 9.5% from the 158 wolves tallied at the end of 2019.
Those numbers are based on sightings, tracks and photographs from remote cameras, according to ODFW.
ODFW acknowledges there are likely more than 173 wolves living in the state, as not all wolves are seen, or their presence confirmed by other evidence, during the annual winter census.
Although two wolf packs and two other groups of wolves are living in the Cascade Mountains or in Central Oregon, a majority of the state’s wolves inhabit the northeast corner.
That’s been true since wolves started migrating into the state from Idaho about 20 years ago.
“While Northeast Oregon continues to host majority of state’s wolf population, dispersal to other parts of Oregon and adjacent states continues,” Roblyn Brown, ODFW’s wolf coordinator, said in a press release.
Of the minimum statewide population of 173 wolves, 151 — 87% — are in the northeast corner, including Baker, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Grant and Morrow counties.
That region also is home to 20 of the state’s 22 documented wolf packs, according to ODFW. The agency defines a pack as four or more wolves traveling together during winter. Pack populations ranged from four to 15 wolves.
The three biggest packs are all in Northeast Oregon:
• Noregaard Pack, 15 wolves, including six pups born in the spring of 2020 that survived through the end of the year. This pack’s area includes parts of the northern Union, Wallowa and Umatilla counties.
• Five Points Pack, 15 wolves, including at least four pups born in the spring of 2020 that survived through the end of the year. This pack’s area includes parts of Union and Umatilla counties, north of Interstate 84.
• Clark Creek Pack, 10 wolves, including at least four pups born in the spring of 2020 that were still with the pack at the end of the year. The pack’s range includes parts of Union and Wallowa counties, mainly east of the Grande Ronde Valley.
Wolf attacks on livestock
Both reported and confirmed wolf attacks on livestock increased during 2020.
ODFW investigated 73 cases of suspect wolf attacks that ranchers reported, a 46% increase from 2019. A majority of those investigations — 51 of 73, or 70% — were in Eastern Oregon.
The number of confirmed wolf attacks rose by 94% in 2020, from 16 to 31. Slightly more than half of the confirmed depredations — 52% — were from the Rogue Pack in Southwest Oregon, which was responsible for 16 confirmed attacks.
Statewide, 42% of reported wolf attacks were confirmed, which 21% were deemed possible or unknown, and 34% were attributed to other predators or causes. Another 3% were designed as probable wolf attacks.
The percentage of confirmed attacks was lower in Eastern Oregon than statewide, however, with 15 of 51 investigations — 29% — deemed confirmed.
In 2019, there were seven confirmed wolf attacks on livestock in Eastern Oregon.
The comparatively low percentage of confirmed attacks is one concern ranchers have about Oregon’s approach to wolf management, said Rodger Huffman, a Northeast Oregon rancher and co-chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s Wolf Task Force Committee.
Huffman said he and other ranchers believe ODFW’s criteria for determining whether wolves attacked livestock are too heavily weighted toward a finding other than confirmation that wolves are responsible.
He said he understands, however, that ODFW officials are under pressure from what Huffman calls the “pro-wolf side,” to not blame wolves for livestock attacks without overwhelming physical evidence.
Huffman said he’s not suggesting that agency biologists assume wolves are the culprits in all depredations, but he contends a lower standard would be more reasonable, and better reflect the actual prevalence of wolf attacks on livestock.
He said he knows a rancher in Union County who reported six possible depredations last year, but ODFW confirmed only one.
Huffman said the rancher has “lost confidence in the system” as a result.
Although Huffman said he believes wolf populations are increasing faster than ODFW’s figures show, an official from Defenders of Wildlife, a group that advocates for the state to protect wolves and encourage their distribution in Oregon, said wolves still are in a relatively tenuous situation in the state.
“This past year has seen a multitude of challenges for wolves in Oregon,” said Sristi Kamal, senior Oregon representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “While increasing wolf numbers are encouraging, long-term recovery is still dependent on addressing multiple threats, including poaching and a push for predator control measures. We have an opportunity in Oregon to ensure habitat connectivity and establish a landscape where wolves and people are both able to flourish. Defenders of Wildlife is committed to working with agency staff, landowners and ranchers to make this happen.”
According to the ODFW annual report, four wolves were killed illegally in Oregon in 2020. Oregon State Police is investigating three of those cases. The breeding male of the Ruckel Ridge Pack was shot in Umatilla County in May 2020. The breeding male of the Cornucopia Pack was shot in September 2020 in Baker County, and a subadult wolf, believed to be from the Pine Creek Pack, was shot in October 2020 in Baker County.
Five other wolves died from different causes during 2020, according to ODFW.
One pup from the Wenaha Pack and a yearling from the Indigo Pack died of natural causes.
A livestock owner shot a wolf that was attacking livestock, one was hit by a car on Interstate 84 in Baker County, and another apparently was killed when it was hit by a boat while swimming across the Snake River.
ODFW captured and fitted tracking collars to 21 wolves during 2020, seven more than in the previous year.
During 2020, the agency tracked 47 wolves, and by the end of the year biologists were still monitoring 34 wolves.
With tracking collar data and information from aerial and ground surveys and remote camera surveillance, ODFW plotted 17,279 separate location points for wolves statewide in 2020. The breakdown by land ownership of those points:
• 57% public lands.
• 38% private lands.
• 5% tribal lands.