Wild wolves again might be at home in Oregon
Protected species - Biologists will try
to confirm signs that wolves are back decades
after being eradicated
The Oregonian 9/8/06 by MICHAEL MILSTEIN
Biologists will set up remote cameras in the
Wallowa Mountains east of La Grande next week in
hopes of verifying a series of wolf sightings and
other signs that protected gray wolves have moved
The sightings include one report in mid-August
from a local hunter who reported two adult wolves
with two pups. If accurate, that suggests the
species might have reproduced in Oregon for the
first time since it was exterminated decades ago
to make the range safe for livestock.
A team of biologists checking out the report saw
what looked like a wolf through a spotting scope
at a distance of about a mile, said Russ Morgan,
the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's wolf
coordinator based in La Grande.
They also found tracks and older droppings that
might have been left by a wolf in the same area
along the upper reaches of the Minam River, in the
remote and rugged Eagle Cap Wilderness, he said.
Another report included a videotape of what looked
like a wolf in Wallowa County in late July. Wolf
experts who viewed the videotape said it had all
the characteristics of a wild wolf, Morgan said.
Looking for more evidence
He emphasized that it would take stronger
evidence, such as a close-up sighting, photograph,
signs of predation or other physical proof, to
confirm the presence of wolves in the state. But
he said the mounting reports point in that
"We're getting to the point where it sure appears
we may have wild wolves in northeast Oregon," he
said. "But as biologists, we want to be certain
Biologists have long expected that wolves
reintroduced to Central Idaho and Yellowstone
National Park in 1995 would spread into Oregon as
they multiply. The Idaho wolf population numbered
about 500 at the beginning of this year, with
packs living just across the state line from
Some animals appear to have left those packs in
the last year and might have headed west.
"It's not a surprise that we would start to see
wolves naturally disperse into Oregon," Morgan
Three wolves have entered Oregon since 1999. One
was removed, another killed by a car and the third
illegally shot, but biologists said more probably
would follow. Wolves in Oregon are protected by
federal and state law, and there are no plans to
A state wolf management plan approved last year
sets a goal of four breeding pairs of wolves each
in Eastern Oregon and Western Oregon. It also
calls for biologists to keep track of wolves in
Oregon wildlife officials have stepped up
monitoring for wolves in the past few years, but
the recent reports are the most tantalizing so
far. State biologists next week will set up scent
stations with the goal of drawing wolves into an
area where they would leave tracks or trigger
motion-activated cameras to take their picture,
If biologists can confirm wolves are present, the
next step would be to capture and fit the animals
with radio collars so they can be more easily
monitored, he said.
Wolves sighted recently might be just passing
through, especially if they are traveling alone,
Morgan said. If some have taken up residence in
mountains of eastern Oregon, biologists expect to
find abundant signs such as tracks, fresh scat and
rendezvous sites where packs gather.
"Certainly they've seen signs suggesting wolves
are there," said Ron Anglin, head of state's
wildlife division. "But we do not have hard
concrete evidence of that yet."
The isolated Eagle Cap Wilderness might be a place
wolves could survive in Oregon without serious
conflicts with livestock, biologists said.
However, the animals are known to roam long
Wolves are protected by both the federal
Endangered Species Act and Oregon's own state
Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to shoot
wolves even if they are seen attacking livestock.
Only federal authorities may control wolves that
Oregon's wildlife agency has applied to the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service for a permit that would
allow state officials also to control wolves that
repeatedly go after livestock. The state
management plan calls for first using nonlethal
methods to scare or drive wolves away from
The conservation group Defenders of Wildlife is
protesting the permit application.
Morgan has met with local ranchers to fill them in
on the recent wolf sightings, he said.
Authorities also have posted signs at trailheads
around the Eagle Cap Wilderness advising hunters
to be sure they do not accidentally shoot a wolf
thinking it's a coyote.
Michael Milstein: 503-294-7689;