Oregon’s wolf population grew by 20 percent in 2014, yet the number of confirmed attacks on livestock decreased from the previous year, according to the latest Wolf Conservation and Management Annual Report released Tuesday.
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife counted 77 known wolves across the state, compared to 64 a year ago. Nine packs were documented including eight breeding pairs, which was enough to trigger Phase II of the wolf management plan in Eastern Oregon.
Phase II of the plan allows more flexibility to kill wolves that make a habit of preying on livestock. It could pave the way to removing wolves from the state endangered species list entirely. That would apply only to packs located east of highways 395, 78 and 95; wolves remain federally protected in western Oregon.
Todd Nash, a Wallowa County rancher and chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association wolf committee, has said producers will push for delisting in 2015 and that lethal control is critical for dealing with problem wolves.
“Compensation of depredation is a Band-Aid, but when you have depredations, we need to be able to take out those packs,” Nash said during the Umatilla County Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting last December in Pendleton.
Conservation groups, however, said the state should move slowly in considering whether or not to remove protections. Population growth in 2014 was lower than the 2013 rate of 33 percent. And of the 77 wolves counted, 26 are pups less than a year old.
“The population remains fragile,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild, in a prepared statement. “ODFW must resist giving in to political pressure, declare mission accomplished, and turn their back on important protections for wolves that have gotten this far.”
ODFW staff will brief the Fish and Wildlife Commission at its March 6 meeting in Salem. The commission could make its decision on delisting as early as June, after hearing input from the public.
The 2014 wolf report also shows the department investigated 34 incidents of wolf predation on livestock in five counties. Of those incidents, 11 were confirmed by ODFW in Eastern Oregon, down from 13 a year ago.
But while the number of incidents was down, the number of animals killed was drastically higher. Local ranchers lost 30 sheep and two cattle during the year, compared to just 12 total animals in 2013.
Compensation totaled more than $150,000 from the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance County Block Grant Program. About 90 percent of that money was awarded to producers in Wallowa, Umatilla and Union counties, with the vast majority earmarked for non-lethal preventative measures such as range riders and fladry fencing.
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4547.