Wolf killings in Oregon at all-time high while population remains stagnant


Oregon’s wolf population count remained the same as last year, although the animals continue to expand their habitat westward, according to a new state report.

Large numbers of wolves killed by people likely contributed to the plateauing number, environmental groups said. Wildlife officials also cited limited habitat in northeastern Oregon, where most packs now live.

Thirty-six wolves died last year – the highest number since wolves have rebounded in the state – and 33 of those were killed by people. Poachers killed 12, including several by poisoning, four wolves were killed in car crashes and one was lawfully shot for personal safety reasons. The rest were killed because they were preying on livestock.

Twenty wolves were killed in 2022 (17 of them by people), 26 in 2021 (21 by people) and nine in 2020 (seven by people).

The state’s wolf population remained at 178 in 2023, the same number it was in 2022, according to an annual wolf report released by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

It’s the fourth year that the animals’ growth in Oregon has been nearly flat. Prior to that, wolf numbers saw double-digit percentage increases for over a decade.

Technically, the number of wolves in Oregon did increase by 10 last year, but in December Oregon captured and sent 10 of its wolves to Colorado to help Colorado meet its voter-approved reintroduction program.

Oregon’s 2023 wolf count documented 22 packs – down from 24 in the previous year – with 15 of the packs meeting the criteria of breeding pairs, down by two from the previous year. A pack is defined as four or more wolves traveling together in winter.

Most of the packs are concentrated in the Wallowas. State wildlife officials have attributed the wolves’ slow growth to turnover of breeding adults and the limited habitat available in that part of the state. Wolves can exist in a wide range of habitats, but they need open spaces and abundant food sources – they travel over large areas to hunt, as far as 30 miles a day, mostly preying on mule deer and elk.

To seek out that habitat, wolves are slowly moving west, wildlife officials said. Although they’re not migratory animals, male wolves disperse widely to establish a new territory or join an existing pack.

Officials in Oregon counted 10 resident groups of wolves in the western part of the state, up from seven groups in 2022 – meaning that a quarter of all known Oregon wolves now live in western Oregon.

Of the 33 wolves killed by humans last year, 16 were lethally removed by ranchers, state or federal wildlife officials in response to chronic depredation in 2023. To many Oregon ranchers, wolves are a nuisance because they kill and harass livestock, especially young calves.

The number of attacks on livestock by wolves slightly decreased from previous years, according to the wolf count report.

In 2023, there were a total of 73 attacks on livestock by wolves, down from 76 in 2022. The state compensated livestock owners $70,264 for confirmed and probable losses to wolves and also paid for an additional $401,023 in preventive measures.

In Oregon, wolves are considered a “special status game mammal” and protected by statute throughout the state. Oregon does not allow sport hunting of wolves. In western Oregon – west of Canyon City and Burns – wolves are federally protected and listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

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