Wolves likely spreading into Coast Range

The breeding male of the new Chesnimnus Pack is caught on camera during the winter survey on U.S. Forest Service land in northern Wallowa County in December 2018. (Photo courtesy ODFW)

OREGON — It’s probably only a matter of times before wolves move into the Coast Range and become part of life for coastal residents.

Biologists have found evidence of wolves in Coos County and say the predators were likely responsible for killing nearly two dozen sheep in Curry County last month near Langlois. It’s part of an uptick in wolf activity in Western Oregon documented in a report released this week by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

“We have found probable depredation in Curry County,” said ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy in response to a media inquiry. “They are probably in Coos County, but we don’t have a resident population. While we do not know of current resident wolves in the Coast Range, there have been sightings all over the state including the Coast Range.”

Wildlife officials are loath to predict what wolves will do, but acknowledge the apex predators used to dwell in coastal areas and may come back.

Wild wolves are increasing in Oregon generally. The latest statewide count shows a 10 percent increase from last year, with 137 of the animals showing up in wintertime tallies by wildlife officials.

Among the highlights of the report:

  • The number of Oregon packs increased from 12 to 16 in a year’s time
  • The numbers of residents wolves and reproduction is on the increase in Western Oregon
  • An Indigo pack of three wolves was found for the first time in the Umpqua National Forest
  • About 13 percent of wolves were tracked by radio collar
  • Biologists found more than 15,000 wolf location data points by methods ranging from radio collar to aerial survey and tracking and howling surveys. Fifty-three percent of the locations were on public land, 40 percent on private and 7 percent on tribal property.

Wolf shooting is down

The unlawful killing of wolves was down to two animals last year, from four killed illegally in 2017. A juvenile wolf near the border with Washington was shot and a radio-tagged female from the Mount Emily Pack was killed on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Law enforcement officials continue to investigate these killings, with rewards ranging from $2,500 to $15,000 for information leading to convictions.

Livestock deaths are up

Livestock kills by wolves increased 65 percent in 2018, according to the ODFW report. Confirmed wolf kills included 17 calves, one llama and two livestock guard dogs among 28 incidents of depredation. Most of these were activity of the Rogue, Pine Creek and Chesnimnus packs. Overall, the predation rate has not increased as much as the population rate over the past nine years of wolf activity in the state, wildlife officials report.

The reintroduction of wolves into western states and their slow but steady spread has been controversial. Conservationists have heralded the return of elusive canine packs they say are good for the ecosystem overall. But ranchers, some hunters and other have opposed the revival of a predator they say takes a toll on hooved animals that are both farmed in captivity and hunted in the wild.

With plenty of forest cover and healthy deer and elk populations for food, the coast can — and likely will — support wolves, researchers believe. The debate on the animal’s effect on the environment and human endeavor is staged to move closer to home as the predators continue to reclaim old territory and the federal government moves to delist the gray wolf, placing management of the species in the hands of the states.


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