Wolves captured by trail cam near Mount Hood spark excitement, concern among groups
Wolves captured by a remote trail camera in the Mount Hood National Forest this week is reigniting discussion and debate between biologists, conservationists, hunters and ranchers statewide.
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife says it marks the first time multiple wolves have been spotted in the northern portion of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains since they began returning to the state at the turn of the millennium.
The wolves were previously documented on the White River Wildlife Area and observed on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
Conservation groups like Oregon Wild are thrilled wolves are returning to areas they once inhabited.
For more than a decade, Executive Director Sean Stevens says Oregon Wild has led a campaign to protect the animals and the lands they populate.
"To have this native animal back in a place that it was for a long time, and it hasn't been for a long time, it's pretty exciting," Stevens told KATU. "For the people who are exploring Mount Hood, they have a chance of hearing a wolf howling."
Stevens says Oregon Wild works closely with biologists, lawmakers and landowners, including ranchers, who say they are gravely concerned about the rapidly growing wolf population.
"As wolves have returned to Oregon over the last 10-plus years, we're trying to educate people, trying to mitigate some of the conflict that is bound to arise because they are natural predators," he said.
Earlier this month, the Rogue Pack in southern Oregon killed three calves in a fenced pasture.
The attacks are prompting calls from the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association to change how wolves are managed on the west side of the state, where the animals remain listed as endangered.
"Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), ranchers don't have any way of protecting their livestock, other than using non-lethal methods," regional co-chair Veril Nelson said. "If those methods don't work, and sometimes they don't, we're kind of hung out to dry."
Fish & Wildlife biologists say Oregon's wolf population has grown to approximately 113, but they have reason to believe there are more than that in the state.
"We think there are enough wolves to justify doing that," Nelson said.
It is a healthy rebound, biologists say, because only 80 years ago, they were completely eradicated.
Lawmakers in Oregon's first legislative session offered wolf bounties because the animals are predatory and considered a threat to people.
They didn't reappear until 1999 when a wolf was spotted near the John Day River in Eastern Oregon.
Biologists say most wolves live in eastern and southern Oregon, but this week's images prove they are moving into areas in the northern Oregon Cascades.
Wolves likely lived in all corners of the state at one point.
The surge of wolves and reintroduction of the predatory animal has hunters, like Dominic Aiello, president of Oregon Outdoor Council, worried it may have an adverse impact on other animals in the ecosystem.
"Deer and elk make up the majority of their diet, especially fawns," Aiello told KATU. "If we look at the deer population in Oregon over the last 30 or so years, we have lost a significant portion of that population."
Aiello said other factors, including severe weather and harsh winters may have also played a role.
"We understand that a lot of Oregonians appreciate that they are here," Aiello said of the wolves. "We support that opinion and that view, but what we want is just management of wolves once they reach a sustainable level."
If the wolf population grows out of control, Aiello said the Oregon Outdoor Council would like state and federal agencies to allow public hunting of the animals.
Under ESA, state biologists are using non-lethal methods, like electric fences and Radio Activated Guard boxes, which creates a loud audible sound when a radio-collared wolf steps onto private land in an attempt to scare the animal away.
Nelson says it rarely works.
But biologists say wolves are here to stay, and there will be growing pains as private, state and federal landowners, biologists and groups work to find a balance in population and management.
Wolves in Wasco County and anywhere west of highways 395-78-95 are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead management agency.
Right now, ODF&W are counting and tracking wolves in the state. They expect to release their findings this spring.
ODF&W encourages the public to report wolves, to record more accurate numbers.
The state's current wolf conservation and management plan is available online.