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Frequently Asked Questions about Wolves in Oregon
Last updated April 2018

How many wolves are currently in Oregon?

Wolf numbers fluctuate throughout the year as wolves disperse, pups are born and new packs are formed. The Oregon wolf population is officially documented at the end of each year using hard evidence (visual observations, remote camera photographs, and tracks). The Department provides a minimum known count of wolves present in Oregon at the end of the year.  It is a direct count of wolves, not an estimate.  It can be difficult to document every wolf, especially lone wolves or new pairs, so the actual number of wolves is higher.

The minimum Oregon wolf population for 2017 is 124 wolves. ODFW documented twelve packs with eleven breeding pairs of wolves in 2017. A breeding pair is an adult male and female wolf that produce at least two pups, which survive through the end of the year. The twelve packs were distributed in two geographic areas of Oregon; eleven packs in northeastern Oregon and one in southwestern Oregon. Known wolf groups occurred in parts of Baker, Grant, Jackson, Klamath, Lake, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa and Wasco Counties.

For more information, see the Oregon Wolf Population webpage or visit the Wolf Program Updates page for current monitoring information on packs and areas of new wolf activity.

What is their current legal status?

West of Highways 395-78-95, wolves are listed on the federal Endangered Species Act and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes management decisions regarding harassment and take of wolves in response to wolf-livestock conflict.

As of Nov. 10, 2015 wolves are no longer listed as a state Endangered Species in Oregon. They are still considered a special status game mammal, protected by statute and managed under the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Wolf Plan) throughout the state.

There are two wolf management zones with the boundary being Highways 97/20/395.  Wolves in Oregon are managed in phases determined by the number of wolves, their reproductive success, and their distribution in these zones. The Wolf Plan is more protective while the wolf population is low and less restrictive as the population increases. 

Wolves in eastern Oregon are currently managed under Phase III of the state’s Wolf Plan. Wolves in western Oregon are managed under Phase I rules, which provide ESA-like protections, until this area of the state has four breeding pairs of wolves for three consecutive years.

Under the Oregon Wolf Plan, in all phases of wolf management, non-lethal measures to prevent wolf-livestock conflict remain the first choice of Oregon wildlife managers. These non-lethal preventive measures are prioritized in all phases of wolf management before ODFW would consider lethal control of wolves due to livestock depredation.

There is no general season sport hunting of wolves allowed in any phase of the Wolf Plan. In Phase III when wolves are delisted, controlled take of wolves by special permit in certain areas could be allowed with Commission approval in situations of chronic livestock depredation or wolf-related declines of prey populations.

Wolves return to Oregon

Were wolves reintroduced into Oregon?

No. The wolves currently in Oregon migrated naturally into the state from Idaho or were born here. Wolves were captured in Canada and released in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s but they were not released in Oregon. State wildlife managers have not captured wolves elsewhere and released them in Oregon, and there are no plans to do so.

Why does Oregon have wolves?

Wolves are native to Oregon. They were listed as endangered by the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1974. When the Oregon Legislature enacted the state’s own ESA in 1987, it grandfathered in all species native to Oregon that were then listed under the federal ESA, including wolves. This law requires the Fish and Wildlife Commission (and ODFW) to conserve wolves in Oregon.

Also, Oregon’s Wildlife Policy directs the Commission to manage wildlife “… to prevent serious depletion of any indigenous species and to provide the optimum recreational and aesthetic benefits for present and future generations of the citizens of the state.” This includes a species as controversial as the wolf.

Are the wolves in Oregon a different subspecies than the wolves originally here?

The wolves in Oregon today are part of the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population. They are descendants of wolves that naturally recolonized northwest Montana starting in the early 1980’s and wolves captured in Canada and released in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in the mid-1990s. Historical evidence and wolf specimens show wolves from the Canadian and northern U.S. Rockies, interior British Columbia, Northwest Territories, and nearly all of Alaska are closely related. According to taxonomists, they belong to a single subspecies known as Canis lupus occidentalis and form a single population across the Rocky Mountains of the northern U.S. and southern Canada.

Wolves originating from the region described above have proven to be genetically and morphologically similar. For example, of the wolves harvested during the 2009 hunting seasons, adults from Montana weighed an average of 97 lbs with a maximum of 117 lbs, and adults from Idaho weighed an average of 101 lbs with a maximum of about 130 lbs. These weights are similar to the sizes of wolves that occurred in these states in the 1800s and early 1900s. While the sample size is very small, the weights of wolves that have returned to Oregon or been born here in the last few years are similar, with the highest weight recorded 115 lbs.

Wolves are also well-known for their ability to disperse long distances from their birth sites. Radio-collar data shows that wolves from southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta mix both with wolves from Idaho and Montana, and with wolves from farther north near the source locations of the animals used for the Idaho and Yellowstone reintroductions.

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Wolf Conservation and Management Plan

When and how was the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan created?

The plan was adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2005 after one of the largest public processes ever for an Oregon fish and wildlife issue. An advisory group of 14 members representing various stakeholders crafted the original plan. Thousands of people provided their input during the initial planning process.

How often is the Wolf Plan reviewed?

The plan is usually reviewed every five years. It was last reviewed and updated in October 2010 with several changes to make managing wolf-livestock conflicts more practical. It was changed again in July 2013 due to a settlement agreement. ODFW intends to update the Wolf Plan again in 2018.

Wolf management

What is the population goal after wolves are off the state Endangered Species List?

The current Wolf Plan does not set a maximum population cap for wolves. The Phase III minimum population objective for wolves in Oregon is seven breeding pairs on each side of the east-west boundary (Hwys97/20/395). Once wolves reach that threshold, they would be managed so they do not decline below that number or climb to numbers that cause unacceptable levels of conflict with other land uses.

How much does it cost to manage wolves in Oregon and how is it paid for?

The majority of wolf program funding for the 2017-2019 biennium consists of federal funds from the Pittman-Robertson Grant Program.  This federal grant requires 25% state match which comes from a combination of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife license dollars (9.5%) and Lottery Funds (15.5%).  Two full time employees and one summer student intern are associated with the program. The total budget allocation for the 2017-2019 biennium is $678,223.

Who at ODFW works on wolves?

ODFW currently has two full time wolf biologists. They work in the East Region (La Grande) office in northeast Oregon. District biologists at ODFW’s field offices also conduct wolf management activities when there are wolves in their area.

Livestock

Livestock depredation

Are ranchers compensated for livestock losses?

The Oregon State Legislature passed HB 3560 during the 2011 session. The bill directed the Oregon Department of Agriculture to establish a wolf depredation compensation and financial assistance program and appropriated $100,000 from the state General Fund to implement the program. For more information about the program, contact the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The organization Defenders of Wildlife previously funded a compensation program in Oregon and other Rocky Mountain states for many years.

How does ODFW determine if a loss is caused by wolves and not by some other cause?

Domestic animals can die for a variety of reasons—due to predators (wolf, cougar, coyote or bear), weather, disease or injury. ODFW carefully investigates all reported livestock losses to wolves to determine the cause of death and the appropriate response.

First, ODFW closely examines evidence (the domestic animal’s carcass, signs of struggle, tracks or scat) to determine if the domestic animal was actually killed or injured by a predator—and not just scavenged by one after dying from another cause.

If the death or injury is determined to be predator-caused, further examination of the carcass and other evidence is needed to determine if wolves (rather than cougars, bears, coyotes) were responsible. Radio-collar data, any eyewitness accounts and wolf sign such as tracks or scat can also help indicate if wolves were in the area at the time.

More on livestock loss investigations

How many livestock have been lost to wolves in Oregon?

As of December 31, 2017, 177 livestock or domestic animals are confirmed to have been killed by wolves in Oregon since wolves began returning to the state in the late 1990s. Other livestock animals have been confirmed injured by wolves. See the livestock loss investigations page for reports of investigations and the annual reports for an annual count of investigations and confirmed deaths/injuries.

How many wolves have been killed because of livestock attacks?

Thirteen Oregon wolves have been killed by ODFW or authorized agents in response to chronic depredations of livestock, including two in Baker County in September 2009 and two in Wallowa County in May 2011 and four in Wallowa County in March 2016, four in Wallowa County in August 2017, and one in Umatilla County in September 2017. In all situations, landowners and wildlife managers first tried a variety of non-lethal measures to avoid and/or reduce wolf-livestock conflict. More on non-lethal measures.

What kind of non-lethal or preventative measures are used to prevent livestock depredation?

Typical methods include:

  • Removing bone piles and carcasses that attract wolves to an area near livestock
  • Fencing, either temporary (fladry - flagged fencing, sometimes electrified) or permanent around small and medium pastures.
  • RAG (radio-activated guard) boxes that emit noise and light when a collared wolf approaches
  • Livestock protection dogs to protect livestock or alert people so they can respond
  • Monitoring of wolf locations, wolf sign and sharing that information to area producers
  • Range rider (an employee hired to monitor and haze wolves away from livestock where necessary).
  • Livestock producers hazing wolves away from livestock
  • Changes in husbandry practices such as grazing cattle at different times and in different pastures.
These preventive methods don’t work in all places at all times. For example, fladry is not an effective tool when livestock are grazing over a wide area. Wolves can also grow accustomed to fladry and RAG boxes, so these tools are not effective long-term. ODFW works with landowners to determine which preventive tool(s) are appropriate.

Are ranchers required to take non-lethal measures against wolf attacks?

No. However, before ODFW can authorize the killing of wolves due to livestock losses, non-lethal methods to solve wolf-livestock conflict must be tried, documented, and deemed ineffective.

What can ranchers do to respond to wolf conflict with livestock?

Ranchers throughout the state may try to scare the wolf off (by making loud noises for example) without harming or injuring the wolf in any way.

West of Hwys 395-78-95, all management related to harassment and take of wolves is regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, not ODFW.

Livestock producers east of Hwys 395-78-95 should see the East Zone / Federally Delistedpage to understand their options, which include the ability to shoot a wolf caught in the act of biting, wounding, killing or chasing livestock in some circumstances.

 

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Wolves and human safety

Are wolves a threat to people?

Like other large carnivores (bears, cougars) wolves will tend to avoid people and wolf-human conflicts are extremely rare. They are more likely to occur when wolves are habituated to people, when dogs are involved, or if wolves are sick (e.g. rabies). Immediately report any incident with a wolf to police or ODFW at a local office or to ODFW’s La Grande office at 541-963-2138. For more information if you encounter a wolf.

How can I protect my dogs against wolves?

Wolves are by nature territorial and guard their territory from other canids, including coyotes and domestic dogs. Hunters who use dogs or anyone walking a dog in wolf country should take steps to limit potential conflicts between their dog(s) and a wild wolf. Print handout of information (pdf)

  • Keep dogs within view.
  • Place a bell or a beeping collar on wider ranging dogs.
  • Talk loudly to the dog or other people with you, or use whistles.
  • Control the dog so that it stays close to you and wolves associate it with a human.
  • Place the dog on a leash if wolves or fresh sign are seen.
  • Remember, it is NOT legal to shoot at or attempt to injure or kill a wolf even if it is attacking your dog, except under certain circumstances with livestock working dogs.

Wolf hybrids / wolves as pets

It is not legal to breed or sell wolves in Oregon.  When people advertise “wolves” for sale they are usually actually dog/wolf hybrids or wolf-type dog breeds which are not regulated as wolves by ODFW.

Wolf hybrids are regulated as domestic dogs in Oregon. ODFW and the state’s Wolf Plan has no jurisdiction over wolf hybrids. Authority to regulate the breeding, raising and holding of wolf hybrids lies with individual Oregon counties. Some Oregon counties have adopted ordinances that regulate the possession of captive wolves and wolf hybrids.

Wolves are capable of hybridizing with other canid species including wolf hybrids. While the potential does exist for the genetic pollution of wild wolf populations, the risk is low considering hybrid wolves released into the wild have a low survival rate.

The possession of wolves or hybrids as pets is discouraged because of the potential threat to human safety. “Hybrids and tame wolves have little fear of humans, are less predictable and manageable than dogs, and are considerably more dangerous to people” (Fritts et al. 2003).

What are the penalties for shooting a wolf?

Except in defense of human life, or in certain circumstances when a wolf is attacking livestock, it is unlawful to shoot a wolf. Doing so is a violation of Oregon state game law, with fines and penalties assessed by a court. The violation would be a Class A misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of a $6,250 fine and confinement to the county jail for one year. The Fish and Wildlife Commission requested that this penalty be increased when it delisted wolves from the state ESA on Nov. 9, 2015. In addition to the criminal fine, Oregon Court may now impose a fine of $7,500 in civil restitution following the passage of House Bill 4046 by the 2016 Oregon State Legislature.

West of Hwys 395-78-95, wolves remain protected by the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Killing an animal protected under the federal ESA is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000, one year in jail, or both.

Coyote hunters need to be aware that wolves can easily be mistaken for coyotes, (especially wolf pups in the fall) and should always carefully identify their target before shooting. ODFW created a Wolf/Coyote Identification Quiz to allow hunters and recreationist to test and increase their knowledge about wolf and coyote identification. Print handout of information (pdf)

Have wolves attacked people since returning to Oregon?

No, nor has there been an attack in other states (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho) since wolves were reintroduced into the northern Rocky Mountains. Wolves have attacked and killed people in Canada and Alaska but this is very rare.

What should I do if I encounter an aggressive wolf in the wild?

In the unlikely event that a wolf threatens a human, here is what to do:

  • Stay calm.
  • Raise your voice and speak firmly.  It is possible that the wolf doesn’t know you are there.
  • Back away slowly while facing the animal. Do not turn and run.
  • Leave the wolf a way to escape.
  • Pick up small children without bending down.
  • Use air horns or other noisemakers. 
  • Use bear spray or firearms if necessary (fire a shot into the ground safely).
  • In the unlikely event that you are attacked by a wolf, fight back. Try to remain standing and use rocks, sticks, tools, camping gear, and your hands to fend off the attack.

What is Echinococcus (and do wolves have it)?

Echinococcus granulosis is a type of tapeworm common to many species of dogs, coyotes, foxes, and wolves. It is endemic and is a natural part of the wolf’s ecology. Ungulates (deer, domestic cattle, domestic sheep, elk, and moose) are intermediate hosts for larval tapeworms, which form hydatid cysts in their body cavity. Canids (i.e., dog species) are definitive hosts where larval tapeworms mature and live in the small intestine.

The tapeworm has a worldwide distribution with two recognized "biotypes.” The 'northern' biotype that circulates between canids (wolf, dog) and wild ungulates (moose, caribou, reindeer, deer and elk) is primarily found in northern latitudes above the 45th parallel. The 'southern' biotype circulates between dogs and domestic ungulates, especially sheep. It is endemic and common in most sheep-raising areas of the world. Recently, Echinococcus was recently identified in Idaho and in one Oregon wolf. This is not unexpected since the parasite is a part of the ecology of the wolf.

Humans are not a natural host of the parasite. Where the parasite is found in wolves and wild ungulates, most wildlife management and public health agencies consider the public health significance and risk to be low. However, care should be taken (gloves warn) when handling dog or wolf feces.

For more information about Echinococcus (pdf)

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Rocky Mountain Cow Elk and Calf
- Photo by Nick Myatt-

Wolves and big game

What kind of impact will wolves have on big game?

The experience of states with more established wolf populations like Montana suggests the impact will vary according to many factors (habitat, weather patterns, hunting, livestock grazing patterns, other predators). In Montana, some elk populations have declined, while in other places with wolves, elk populations are stable or increasing.

ODFW biologists predict that elk will be the preferred prey in the Wallowa, Blue and Ochoco Mountains of northeast and central Oregon.

Are wolves reducing hunting opportunities for big game?

Big game hunting tags have not been reduced due to wolves.

What can ODFW do about wolves and big game populations?

Healthy big game populations are important for Oregon’s citizens and local economics and will also play an important role in achieving wolf conservation in Oregon. ODFW will manage wolf numbers in balance with big game and other wildlife populations.

ODFW closely monitors both wolf and game (deer, elk, bighorn sheep, goat) populations. As wolf numbers increase and wolf population objectives are met, ODFW will evaluate wolves’ impact on game populations. If game populations are below their management goals and wolf predation is determined to be a primary cause of their decline, ODFW could take steps including translocation, relocation and controlled take of wolves.

More information: See the Wolf-Ungulate Interactions (pdf) section of the Wolf Plan.
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