Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has released a new wolf count showing the state's confirmed population of gray wolves nearly doubled last year.
The agency's annual count shows the minimum number of wolves in the state is 53 wolves in seven packs. That's up from 29 wolves in five packs at the end of 2011. You can see from the map above that the packs are all concentrated in northeast Oregon.
The population includes at least five breeding pairs of wolves, which are two adult wolves that produce at least two pups that survive to the end of the year after their birth. Breeding pairs are important because it's a key threshold for removing the species from the state endangered species list.
In order for ODFW to begin delisting wolves in eastern Oregon, the agency must confirm four breeding pairs of wolves for three consecutive years.
"This will be the first year we've had at least four breeding pairs," said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for ODFW. "If we had the same numbers for 2013 and 2014 we could start the delisting process."
Delisting the species would mean fewer restrictions on killing wolves, which ODFW has confirmed are responsible for 57 attacks on livestock in the state since 2008. Dennehy said the new population numbers show the state is moving toward its conservation goals, and that delisting the species wouldn't mean a drastic change in management.
The wolf population is determined at the end of each calendar year based on wolves ODFW staff has verified with evidence including sightings, tracks and remote camera footage. According to ODFW, the actual number of wolves is likely greater than the annual population estimate.