A new wolf pack is using the Snake River wildlife management unit of northeast Oregon, which borders Idaho and includes the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Wilderness.
ODFW surveyed the area last week, after receiving reports and trail camera photographs from hunters indicating wolves were in the area. Tracks from at least five different wolves were documented on Thursday. Though the photographs provided to ODFW indicate that at least one pup was produced in this area, the new pack will not be considered a “breeding pair” unless two or more pups are documented in December.
ODFW encourages hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts to report wolf sightings using the online reporting system or by phone. “These public wolf reports from Oregon’s outdoor enthusiasts really help us target our survey efforts and make the best use of limited resources.” said Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf program coordinator.
The confirmation of the Snake River pack marks the fourth wolf pack confirmed in Oregon since the mid-2000s, when wolves began returning to the state from Idaho.
Last Friday, ODFW radio-collared its first wolf from the Walla Walla pack in Umatilla County (OR-10, or the tenth wolf collared in the state). This pack was first documented in January 2011 and is near the Washington border. The female pup collared weighed 48 pounds and appeared to be in excellent health. She was released unharmed.
While ODFW wolf program staff out of ODFW’s La Grande office assisted with the immobilization and radio-collaring of the wolf, district staff from the Pendleton field office were responsible for the wolf’s capture. “We’ve known about the Walla Walla pack since January and at least two pups since summer, but the collar will make it much easier to document the pack’s size and get a sense of the pack’s movements,” said Mark Kirsch, ODFW district wildlife biologist in Pendleton.
“As wolves expand their range in Oregon, more work will be handled by our district staff,” noted Russ Morgan. “Livestock producers and others are encouraged to work directly with district staff as they do for other wildlife in their area.”
In other wolf-related developments, two wolves from the Imnaha Pack of Wallowa County have dispersed to central Oregon.
OR-7 was last documented in northern Lake County. He was born in northeast Oregon (Imnaha pack) and was collared on Feb. 25, 2011. GPS collar data shows that this wolf left the Imnaha pack territory on Sept. 10, 2011. Since then he has visited six counties (Baker, Grant, Harney, Crook, Deschutes and now Lake). ODFW and USFWS will continue to monitor OR-7’s location data. At this point, it is unknown if he will continue to disperse or settle down in central Oregon.
OR-3 was also last located in central Oregon. OR-3 was born in northeast Oregon (Imnaha pack) and radio collared on Feb. 12, 2010. He is a three-year-old male and dispersed from the pack in May. He has a VHF radio collar which does not allow for continuous tracking. OR-3 has been monitored by ODFW and USFWS using periodic aerial flights. He was discovered in Wheeler County in July and was later located in the Ochoco Mountains on Sept. 29. Since that time he has not been found. The USFWS and ODFW will continue to attempt to locate this wolf.
It is natural for wolves to disperse away from their birth area. Counting the two wolves in central Oregon, a total of four radio-collared wolves from northeast Oregon have dispersed away from their home pack (the Imnaha). One travelled to Washington last winter and has not been located since. Another dispersed to Idaho and continues to be in that state.
The current minimum known number of wolves ODFW can account for in Oregon is 23: the Imnaha pack (four), Walla Walla pack (six), Snake River pack (five), Wenaha pack (four), northern Umatilla County wolves (two) plus two dispersers from the Imnaha pack that remain in Oregon. This count represents the minimum number of wolves that can be confirmed due to track evidence, visual observations or collar data. It is very likely that more than 23 wolves exist in Oregon.
Wolves throughout Oregon are protected by the state Endangered Species Act (ESA). West of Hwys 395-78-95, they are also protected by the federal ESA. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead management agency for wolves west of this boundary.