Biologists confirmed this week that a member of the eastern Oregon Imnaha Pack has made it way to Central Oregon. The wolf known Or-3 was one of handful of wolves that dispersed from the Imnaha pack earlier this year after wolf managers killed two members of the pack in response to livestock attacks.
The wolf which has been fitted with a radio collar originally made its way over to the Fossil area in the John Day basin, but has since continued its journey westward, according to an email from the Oregon Deaprtment of Fish and Wildlife U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serice that was provided to the conservation group Cascadia Wildlands. Cascadia spokesman Josh Laughlin said the wildlife agency tracked the wolf by air to the Ochoco Mountains in Crook County. The wolf was later spotted on the ground by federal biologists, making it the first confirmed wolf sighting in the Ochoco Mountains since wolves began to reestablish themselves in Oregon as part of the larger wolf reintroduction. Oregon’s wolf population which stood at 21 animals last year has dropped to roughly 14 this year as a result of sanctioned kills, poaching and other natural causes. It's believed that Oregon's wolves established themselves late in the last decade when members of the newly re-introduced Idaho population crossed the Snake River into Oregon.
Unlike the other members of the Oregon population, the Ochoco wolf is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, which has strict provisions about how and when wolves can be killed. The wolf, which recently traveled 45 miles in a single day, has essentially walked out of the wolf-killing zone, a multi-state area encompassing parts eastern Oregon, Idaho, eastern Washington and Wyoming where Congress circumvented the courts and federal wolf managers by unilaterally delisting a portion of the Northern Rockies population.
Laughlin said the lone wolf from the Imnaha pack is demonstrating rather common behavior and may be looking to “pack up.” Whether or not that would or could happen in the Cascades or Ochocos is a matter of some debate. Laughlin said there have been numerous sighings, but unconfirmed sightings, in the Cascades. He said a co-worker not long ago spotted what he believed was a wolf west of Sisters on Santiam Pass.
“It’s an exciting time and a challenging time for wolf recovery in Oreogn,” Laughlin said.
Earlier today his organization filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the planned killing of two members of the aforementioned Imnaha pack, including the so-called alpha male. Laughlin said the move was necessary to prevent what would amount to the decimation of what was only recently Oregon’s most thriving wolf pack. That success has come at a price. Ranchers have successfully lobbied both the state and federal government to cull the pack’s numbers in response to livestock killings. Laughlin said that the most recent decision, however, demonstrates the state’s disregard for any non-lethal measures.
“We believe they’re giving into the intense political pressure in Northeast Oregon. Kiling a wolf is supposed to be a last resort,” Laughlin said. “We’re saying enough is enough and it’s time to give the handful of Oregon wolves time to recover.”
The group has also issued a formal request to Gov. John Kitzhaber, asking him to intervene in the issue.