By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin
Wolf status report
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is to meet at 8 a.m. Friday in the Ponderosa Room at the Deschutes National Forest Headquarters at 63095 Deschutes Market Road in Bend. The agenda includes a presentation about the protection status of the gray wolf in Oregon, a sage grouse update and potential ocean fishing rule adoption. For more information go to j.mp/BendWolfMtg.
As their population grows and their territory expands, wolves might be coming off the list of protected animals in Oregon.
The state’s wolf program coordinator, Russ Morgan with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, plans to present the findings of a status review for the gray wolf at a Friday meeting in Bend. In the status review, posted online last week, the department recommends the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission delist the wolf.
“Factors related to wolf health, habitat, dispersal, habitat connectivity, and wolf survival all indicate a healthy and growing population that is unlikely to decline in the near-term,” reads the status review.
Because of overlapping jurisdictions of federal and state wildlife oversight, however, even if the state commission delists the wolf, it would have minimal impact in Central Oregon, where the species would still be under federal protection.
“Even if the state delisted (the gray wolf) it would still be federally protected,” said John Stephenson, Oregon wolf coordinator for the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bend. “It wouldn’t be that much of a change” for Central Oregon.
If the commission moves to delist, the department would likely come back in June with a draft proposal and then the commission would make a final decision in August, wrote Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the department, in an email.
The commission sets policy for ODFW, which manages wildlife in Oregon. The wolf has been on the state’s protected species list since 1987, the year the Oregon Endangered Species Act was enacted.
In the past decade, wolves have returned to Oregon. The first traveled into the state from the east, coming from wolves released in 1995 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Now there are at least 77 wolves in the state, according to the status review, with nine known packs.
While conservation groups have cheered the wolf revival, ranchers and others in the livestock industry have raised concerns about wolf attacks on their animals and what the state is doing about them.
The potential change to wolf status would have the biggest impact where wolves are found the most in Oregon, the state’s northeast corner. There, wolves are off the federal endangered species list, and the state is in complete control of managing the animals, Stephenson said.
In Central Oregon and the western two-thirds of Oregon, it is a different story. Although wolves have wandered into this part of the state, no packs have established territory here, and they remain on the federal endangered species list and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guides wolf management.
A change in status for the wolf by the state would not change that.
OR-7, perhaps Oregon’s most famous wolf, would still be protected due to where his Rogue Pack roams. Born into the Imnaha Pack in northeast Oregon in 2009, OR-7 left as a lone wolf in 2011 and crossed over hundreds of miles as he passed through Central Oregon and ventured into Northern California. Along the way, the wolf — called OR-7 because of his GPS collar — drew national media attention.
Since May 2013, OR-7 has prowled the woods between Klamath Falls and Medford, has found a mate and has fathered at least three pups. Trail camera photos of the wolves taken late last spring proved OR-7 and his mate were the first breeding pair since the mid-1940s in Oregon’s Cascades.
The battery on OR-7’s collar isrunning low, and efforts to recapture him to replace it, or capture another member of his pack, have been unsuccessful. Stephenson said he plans to try to re-collar OR-7 or collar another member of the pack this spring or early this summer.
He said there have not been other wolves tracked into Central Oregon since OR-7, but there could be more. “It is very possible that there are other lone dispersers in Central Oregon …,” Stephenson said. “But we don’t have anything confirmed.”