Saturday, December 12, 2015

Wolves appear to be avoiding Central Oregon, so far

State and federal wolf experts say tracking data could be misleading

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin

Another lone wolf recently passed through Central Oregon, following a path similar to the one blazed by OR-7, a wolf made famous by his wandering.

But like OR-7 and three other wolves tracked by collar in the past five years, OR-28 appears to not be interested in establishing a territory in Central Oregon. Since coming from northeast Oregon last month she is so far sticking south of Silver Lake, the dry lake not the town, in Lake County, said Russ Morgan, state wolf coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in La Grande. 

Why collared wolves have only passed through Central Oregon so far and not stayed is unknown, he said. “Collar data only tells, ‘The wolf was here at this point in time.’” 

And the data is from a small sample size. Oregon has at least 81 wolves, according to a Department of Fish and Wildlife tally from the end of 2014. Most are found in the northeast corner of the state. Less than 20 percent of the wolves have tracking collars, estimated John Stephenson, Oregon wolf coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He said people should not read too much into the collar data showing wolves passing up on Central Oregon territories. 

“We also know there are other wolves that don’t have (GPS or) radio collars running around and we don’t know their paths,” he said. 

The collar data does show that wolves seem to avoid the population centers of Central Oregon, such as Bend, Redmond and Madras. Drawn on a map, the paths of OR-7 and OR-28 show the wolves turning south when they came close to Pine Mountain, about 30 miles southeast of Bend. 

Both wolves were likely dissuaded from staying in Central Oregon by human activity and bright city lights at night, Stephenson said. That’s not to say other wolves might not eventually find a home here though, particularly in the forested mountains. 

“I think the Cascades of Central Oregon are good wolf habitat and they will occupy that area, but they have to get around Bend and Redmond to do that,” he said. 

So far at least one wolf, OR-25, is known to have passed though the Central Oregon Cascades earlier this year although he kept going south. 

Of the collared wolves to disperse, or leave their packs, from northeast Oregon, OR-25 is the only one so far to find trouble. In early November the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed he attacked three calves, killing one and wounding two others, on private land near the Upper Williamson River. 

Efforts to keep him away from cattle since have been effective, Stephenson said Wednesday. They include lights and noise boxes as well as electrified fladry — flagging designed to deter wolves from going over a fence line. And state wildlife managers have fired cracker shotgun shells, which make a loud noise designed to spook animals. 

OR-25 is spending less time near the pasture. “We’re hoping he’ll move somewhere else entirely, but he hasn’t done that yet,” Stephenson said. 

While OR-25 and OR-28’s collars still are sending signals, the collars of OR-3 and OR-7 have blinked out

Since September 2011 state and federal wildlife managers did not know what had become of OR-3, until a private trail camera captured a photo of him this July in the Cascades of northern Klamath County. The photo shows a wolf in the lower right corner of the frame. The black animal has a tracking color and an ear tag. 

State officials used the color and location of the ear tag to determine the identity of the wolf.
“The only wolf that can be (is) OR-3,” Morgan said. 

Farther south and west in the Cascades OR-7 found a mate, a female who also dispersed from northeast Oregon, and now is raising his second litter of pups. 

Only time will tell whether more wolves follow OR-3 and OR-7 to the southern Cascades or decide to blaze their own paths to Central Oregon. In May 2014 another male wolf, OR-24, wandered into Central Oregon only to turn back and return to northeastern Oregon. 

“...We just have to be patient and wait for the wolves to tell us where they will be,” Morgan said.