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Oregon's fourth wolf pack: Not a 'breeding pair'

Meet OR-10, a 48-pound female pup from Oregon's Walla Walla pack. She was captured, collared and released last week in northern Umatilla County.

Meet OR-10, a 48-pound female pup from Oregon's Walla Walla pack. She was captured, collared and released last week in northern Umatilla County.

Northeast Oregon has a new wolf pack – in the Snake River management area near Idaho and the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Wilderness.

Running from Idaho wolf hunters? That I don’t know.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife got reports and trail camera pictures from hunters indicating there were wolves in the area. The agency did its own survey, and documented tracks from at least five different wolves on Thursday. The agency confirmed the state’s fourth wolf pack today.

But although pictures provided to ODFW show that at least one pup was produced in this area, the agency won’t consider this pack a “breeding pair” unless two or more pups are documented in December. In fact, according to ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy the state only has one official “breeding pair”: The Walla Walla pack, which has new pups this year (see photo above).

Why does that matter? Well, state wolf management rules say ODFW can only start removing state Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves when there are four breeding pairs in the eastern third of the state (roughly) for three consecutive years. A “breeding pair” is a pack that has at least two pups that survive through the end of the year.

Endangered Species Act protections keep people from killing wolves freely, so they make it harder for ranchers trying to protect their livestock. Oregon ranchers are allowed to kill coyotes they see roaming around the neighborhood, for example. But they can’t kill wolves unless a) the wolves are caught in the act of attacking livestock AND b) the rancher has a “caught in the act” permit from the state. The chances of that happening, ranchers say, are extremely slim.

So even though eastern Oregon now has four confirmed packs of wolves, it’s still a ways away from having the four breeding pairs required to remove state endangered species protections. Federal protections east of the Cascades, you may recall, were removed earlier this year.

West of the Cascades, federal protections are still in place. And now, as ODFW summed up in a news release today, there are two wolves in Central Oregon that may shine a spotlight on federal management:

“In other wolf-related developments, two wolves from the Imnaha Pack of Wallowa County have dispersed to central Oregon.

OR-7 was last documented in northern Lake County. He was born in northeast Oregon (Imnaha pack) and was collared on Feb. 25, 2011. GPS collar data shows that this wolf left the Imnaha pack territory on Sept. 10, 2011. Since then he has visited six counties (Baker, Grant, Harney, Crook, Deschutes and now Lake). ODFW and USFWS will continue to monitor OR-7’s location data. At this point, it is unknown if he will continue to disperse or settle down in central Oregon.

OR-3 was also last located in central Oregon. OR-3 was born in northeast Oregon (Imnaha pack) and radio collared on Feb. 12, 2010.  He is a three-year-old male and dispersed from the pack in May.  He has a VHF radio collar which does not allow for continuous tracking. OR-3 has been monitored by ODFW and USFWS using periodic aerial flights.  He was discovered in Wheeler County in July and was later located in the Ochoco Mountains on Sept. 29.  Since that time he has not been found.  The USFWS and ODFW will continue to attempt to locate this wolf.

It is very natural for wolves to disperse away from their birth area. Counting the two wolves in central Oregon, a total of four radio-collared wolves from northeast Oregon have dispersed away from their home pack (the Imnaha). One travelled to Washington last winter and has not been located since. Another dispersed to Idaho and continues to be in that state.”

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