Since the gray wolf was reintroduced by federal wildlife officials, the program hasn't been without controversy as the animals move west through Idaho and into Washington and Oregon.
A wolf can travel long distances quickly. Take OR 25, a male wolf that dispersed from his Imnaha pack in northeast Oregon just a year ago. In less than three months he had traveled hundreds of miles from the Wallowa Mountains through the Columbia plateau, through the southern Blue Mountains, into the Northern and Central Cascade Mountains and, finally, to northern Klamath County. Drawing a straight line, he covered at least 600 miles. Wildlife officials estimate that in his wanderings he may have covered twice that distance. It only took him eight days to cross I-84 near Pendleton before his GPS tracking collar showed him to be in the Cascade Mountains west of Madras. OR 25 covered the distance from Mt. Jefferson to northern Klamath County in four days.
From May 2015, this wolf's radio collar shows most of his activity near the headwaters of the Williamson River in northern Klamath County, where he's being carefully watched by ranchers and wildlife officials. It's calving season on ranches and the newborns can easily become prey. Ranchers and wildlife officials kept a 24-hour vigil, hazing the male wolf with loud shotgun blasts in hopes that he wouldn't kill or maim as he did last fall when his radio collar showed him near a calf carcass on numerous occasions between Oct. 28 and Nov. 2. It was the first wolf depredation in southern Oregon since reintroduction. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, two other calves were badly maimed.
Populations are growing
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife recently released its 2015 wolf population report, which showed a 36 percent increase over 2014. The count now stands at 110 statewide. "Oregon's wolves are healthy and growing," says Russ Morgan who coordinates ODFW's wolf program. "The increase in 2015 simply provides quantitative support for our prediction that wolves will continue to increase in Oregon," he says. "At some point the growth will undoubtedly slow down, but I think we are several years from that because they're still pioneering new areas," according to Morgan.
Those new areas could eventually include the coastal mountains. Morgan says he suspects that if wolves move into the coastal range they will originate from the Rogue Pack in the Jackson/Klamath area where pups have been produced for the last two years. "As they disperse, they could potentially end up crossing I-5 and moving west," he says. Morgan says he thinks it's unlikely they are there now, however.
The fate of OR 25 appears somewhat cloudy. Ranchers and wildlife officials admit they can only continue their hazing efforts for so long in hopes that the wolf will leave the ranch areas in the upper Williamson River region. Big game animals on which wolves often prey, including mule deer and elk, have not yet returned to the area from their winter range. If there are more confirmed kills of cattle by OR 25, he could be lethally removed.
According to John Stephenson, Oregon's Wolf Coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, it would take repeated or chronic offenses to justify killing OR 25. And, when the Source Weekly talked to Stephenson on March 8, there was some optimism. "As of last night, OR 25 has left the area and is now in northern California," said Stephenson. This is the third time he has left the area and crossed into California, which is at least 40 miles away. "He is a lone wolf and may be searching for a mate."
Stephenson lauds area ranchers who he says have been cooperative in trying to divert OR 25 and says it would be "nice if we succeed." He says that even though wolves have been de-listed as endangered by ODFW, they are still federally listed west of Hwy 395, which covers two-thirds of Oregon. It is illegal to shoot and kill a wolf unless there is danger to human life, or in certain circumstances involving livestock.
Only about half of gray wolves are gray. Others may be of different colors including white, tawny gray or black, or a combination of these colors. Some younger wolves can be mistaken for dogs, but can be distinguished from coyotes and dogs by their longer legs, larger feet, wider head and snout, shorter ears, narrow body, and straight tail, according to information available on the ODFW website.