By Eric Mortenson
SALEM — Taking wolves off Oregon’s endangered species list won’t significantly affect their management because the state wolf plan would remain in place, according to a biological status review that will be presented to the state wildlife commission on Friday.
Taking no action on the delisting question, however, might undermine support for the 10-year-old wolf plan and “thereby reducing public tolerance for wolves,” the report concludes.
The report compiled by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists says the state’s wolf population continues to increase in “abundance and distribution” and has met the required criteria for delisting in every instance.
Discussion of the report at Friday’s commission meeting in Florence, Ore., is billed as an informational biological status review, with no action scheduled. But it could provide a preview of the commission’s ultimate decision when it meets again Nov. 9 in Salem.
It also coincides with controversy over ODFW’s refusal to authorize killing Mount Emily Pack wolves that repeatedly attacked a sheep herd this summer, and with the unsolved deaths of two wolves known as the Sled Springs Pair.
To take wolves off the state endangered species, the commission must make five findings. They are: Wolves aren’t in danger of extinction in any portion of their range; their natural reproductive potential is not in danger of failing; there’s no imminent or active deterioration of their range or primary habitat; the species or its habitat won’t be “over-utilized” for scientific, recreational, commercial or educational reasons; and existing state or federal regulations are adequate to protect them.
Each of the criteria is examined in depth in the report. “The probability of population failure is very low,” the biologists concluded.
Wolves in Northeast Oregon have been taken off the federal endangered species list but remain on the state list. The federal listing still applies in the rest of the state, including where the famous traveling wolf, OR-7, resides with his pack in the Southwest Oregon Cascades.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced 66 gray wolves into Idaho and Wyoming in 1995-96. As expected, a few Idaho wolves migrated to Northeast Oregon beginning in 1999. Oregon’s first pack, the Wenaha, was documented in 2008.
Other highlights of the report:
• Oregon’s wolf population as of July is a minimum of 85 individuals in 16 packs or groups, up from 81 wolves at the end of 2014. Biologists believe more wolves live in the state but only 85 are documented. The number does not include pups born this year.
• The population will surpass 100 to 150 wolves in the next one to three years, “regardless of listed status.”
• Wolves now use 12.4 percent of their potential range statewide, 31.6 percent in Eastern Oregon.
• From 2009 through June 2015, confirmed losses to wolves stood at 79 sheep, 37 cattle, two goats and two herd protection dogs. Ranchers believe wolves are responsible for much more damage, saying livestock often disappear in wolf country.
• No wolves have been killed while attacking or chasing livestock. Since 2009, ODFW has killed four for “chronic” livestock attacks, but none since 2011. At least five wolves have been illegally shot since 2000; one died in an ODFW capture attempt in 2011; one was hit and killed by a vehicle in 2000