Did you know there are wolves on the West Coast?
There are. And they’re thriving. In 2008 wolves migrated from nearby western states and established themselves in northeastern Oregon on the border of Idaho and Washington. Annual counts began in 2009 and the population is increasing at about 1.5% per year. Currently, about 80 wolves are in 15 known packs. Two of the 15 packs reside in southwest Oregon, the Rogue and Keno packs. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife believes the overall population is healthy and increasing, with at least seven breeding pairs of wolves in 2014.
The Imnaha pack is believed to have formed in 2009 after several members of the pack migrated from Idaho. The pack had as many as 16 wolves but many of its members are now believed to have died or scattered to other packs. An Imnaha wolf named OR-7 was born in 2009 (he was named OR-7 because he was the seventh wolf radio collared in Oregon). OR-7 left the Imnaha pack in 2011, traveling southwest and as far south as California into Shasta and Lassen counties. At the time, he was the first known wild wolf in California in 87 years.
OR-7 spent most of 2012 in California then returned to Oregon in 2013 where he later joined (or even formed) the Rogue pack. It’s not unusual for young wolves to disperse from their parent’s pack to seek out other packs or form their own pack. Given the proximity of the Rogue and Keno packs to California, it seems probable the wolves will eventually spread into the Golden State as well.
OR-7 found a mate last year and sired a litter of three pups. The pups are still alive which is remarkable considering the wolf pup survival rate is only about 60% (which is considered about normal). Biologists have just recently found evidence (very small wolf scat) OR-7 has sired another litter.
Remote camera photo of OR7 captured on 5/3/2014 in eastern Jackson County on USFS land. Photo courtesy of USFWS.
Wolves were intentionally eradicated from Oregon and gone by 1947. The reintroduction of wolves in neighboring states resulted in wolves reestablishing their population in Oregon. They are currently listed as an endangered species under the Oregon Endangered Species Act. In 2005 Oregon foresaw the potential for wolves returning, especially after the successful reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone; the state adopted a wolf conservation plan that established it would protect those that naturally reestablished themselves in the state. In 2008 that began to happen. The population growth has been so successful that Oregon is evaluating whether the gray wolf can be delisted as an endangered species.
This success doesn’t come without controversy. Ranchers aren’t happy. Wolves kill their livestock. Oregon compensates ranchers when this happens but this is still a problem and they claim this is impacting their livelihood. It is illegal to hunt wolves in Oregon. They can only be shot in defense of human life or if livestock is being attacked. Oregon has outlined non-lethal measures that ranchers can use to deter wolf attacks but that doesn’t always work. In 2013 a settlement was reach between the state and Oregon Cattlemen’s Association to provide more assistance to ranchers.
Two of OR-7’s pups are playing on this video posted on the Center for Biological Diversity’s website.
Images provided are courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has authorized use of its images under conditions of this license agreement.