SALEM — Another year, another uptick in Oregon's wolf population.
State wildlife biologists documented at least 137 wolves in 2018, a 10% increase over the previous year, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's annual wolf report released April 8.
The number of wolves in Oregon has grown incrementally every year since counting began in 2009. However, ranchers and environmentalists disagree whether the species is fully recovered statewide, especially as the Trump administration considers whether to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves in the Lower 48.
ODFW removed wolves from the state Endangered Species List in 2015, though the predators are still federally protected west of highways 395, 78 and 95.
Most wolves remain tightly clustered in northeast Oregon, though Roblyn Brown, ODFW wolf program coordinator, said wolves are expanding their territory. A new pack was discovered south of Mount Hood last year, and a group of at least three wolves are now roaming the Umpqua National Forest in Lane and Douglas counties.
"The state's wolf population continues to grow and expand its range, now into the central Oregon Cascade Mountains too," Brown said in a statement.
All together, Oregon has 16 packs — up from 12 in 2017 — of which 15 are "breeding pairs," meaning they reproduced and had at least two adults and two pups survive through the year. Eight other groups consisting of two to three wolves were also identified.
Ranchers point to the upward trajectory as further evidence the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should follow through with a recent proposal to delist gray wolves across the country.
"This (report) shows that the Oregon wolf plan was successful, that the species has fully recovered, and it's time to move on with the delisting in the rest of Oregon," said Jerome Rosa, Oregon Cattlemen's Association executive director.
If delisted, it would allow ranchers and wildlife managers to kill wolves that repeatedly prey on livestock under certain conditions in Western Oregon, as is done in Eastern Oregon under the state's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
Under the federal Endangered Species Act, Western Oregon ranchers are limited solely to using non-lethal deterrents to minimize conflict with wolves.
"As the wolf population has expanded into new areas in Oregon, livestock producers have adjusted the way they do business to remove bone piles and incorporate non-lethal measures that can reduce the vulnerability of their livestock to depredation by wolves and other predators," Brown said. "We extend our thanks and appreciation for their efforts."
Wolf attacks on livestock increased by 65% in 2018, with 28 confirmed incidents. More than one-third of the depredations were attributed to the Rogue pack near Crater Lake. Across the state, wolves killed 17 calves, two guard dogs and one llama, while injuring 13 more calves.
Two wolves were poached in 2018, down from four in 2017. A juvenile wolf, believed to be from the Grouse Flats pack in Washington, was illegally shot in Oregon, as was the breeding female of the Mount Emily pack in the Blue Mountains, which was shot on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. State and tribal police are investigating both incidents.
ODFW did legally shoot three wolves from the Pine Creek pack in Baker County in April 2018, following repeated attacks on livestock.
Environmental groups cheered the ongoing recovery of wolves in Oregon, while urging the state and federal governments not to relax protections that would set the species back.
Sristi Kamal, Oregon senior representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said the group is encouraged by another year of steady growth, but "wolves in Oregon are still very much in recovery."
"The current revision and update of the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is more important than ever if this recovery trend is to continue," Kamal said. "As wolves disperse throughout the state, it is also critical that we continue to focus on non-lethal tools and techniques."
ODFW staff will present its wolf report to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission on April 19 in St. Helens. A draft of the revised wolf plan is also expected to be released to the public for review later this month, according to an ODFW spokeswoman.