GRANTS PASS — Oregon’s wolf population continues to grow and has spun off another pathfinder that made it to the Cascades.
A draft of the state’s 2013 wolf report says tracks were confirmed in December after a sighting on the eastern flanks of Mount Hood, about 200 miles west of the wolf packs in northeastern Oregon.
Three hundred miles south in the southern Cascades, the famous wandering wolf OR-7 has been shuttling between Oregon and California looking for a mate since fall 2011.
It was not known if the Mount Hood wolf was a female and potential mate for OR-7, or another dispersing male, said the department’s wolf coordinator, Russ Morgan. The area has plenty of deer and elk for prey.
Rob Klavins, a wildlife advocate for the conservation group Oregon Wild, said he hoped the two wolves would turn into a breeding pair, which would be the first in the Cascade Range since wolves came to Oregon from Idaho in the 1990s. “That’s a big step for wolf recovery, if that is true,” he said.
Until wolves started swimming the Snake River from Idaho and colonizing Oregon in the 1990s, the last known wolf in Oregon was shot in 1946 by a bounty hunter in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide area of the Cascades. OR-7 roamed through the wilderness area in 2011 and has traveled south of Mount Lassen in California, where he was spotted with some coyotes.
Overall, the number of confirmed wolves statewide has grown from 48 in 2012 to 64 last year. The number of packs grew from six to eight. While the number of packs successfully producing pups dropped from six in 2012 to four in 2013, it marked the second year in a row that the state recovery goal of four breeding pairs was met. One more year like that and the department can consider removing wolves form the Oregon endangered species list.
Rod Childers, a Wallowa County rancher and negotiator for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association on wolf issues, said he had not carefully reviewed the report, but the growing number of wolves is no surprise, given the restrictions on killing wolves that attack livestock.
“All I can say for the cattlemen is I told you so,” he said.
One of Oregon’s original breeding females, OR-2, has dropped off the radar, the report said. Her tracking collar stopped sending signals last summer, and she has not been seen since with the Imnaha pack — Oregon’s first.
Morgan emphasized it was not known if she was alive or dead. The seven pups she produced in the spring also were not seen at the end of the year, though OR-2 and some pups could have left the pack. Two new wolves were spotted to the south.
A small light gray female, OR-2 was captured and fitted with a tracking collar in 2009 and has been producing pups every spring with the alpha male of the Imnaha pack, OR-4. Since the disappearance of OR-2, OR-4 has aligned himself with another female, which has an injured hind leg.
“Because of the time (wolves) have been around, now we are starting to see some of these dynamics kick in,” Morgan said. “Mates do get replaced in the wolf world.”
Three packs — Imnaha, Umatilla River and Snake River — were blamed for 13 livestock attacks last year, but none of the packs has qualified for consideration of lethal control. Five cows, six sheep and one goat were killed. That compares with four cows and eight sheep killed in 2012 by the Imnaha and Umatilla River packs. Under terms of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by Oregon Wild, and subsequent legislation, a pack must be blamed for four confirmed attacks on livestock where the owner had taken steps to protect them with nonlethal controls, such as cleaning up old carcasses or putting out alarms triggered by a wolf tracking collar.
The state gave ranchers $7,396 for confirmed wolf kills in Wallowa, Baker and Umatilla counties and $8,667 for missing livestock in wolf country. And $43,932 was distributed to pay for preventative measures, such as range riders, cleaning up cattle carcasses and putting out electrified flags, known as fladery.
Another first for Oregon wolves was the confirmation of parvovirus, a deadly disease common in dogs. Necropsies confirmed it in two pups found dead.
Morgan said the disease could reduce the growth of wolf numbers in the short term but was not likely to be a long-term factor. When the disease first appeared in wolves on Yellowstone National Park, numbers fell, then rebounded.
The state Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to consider the report March 7.
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