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Frequently Asked Questions about Wolves in Oregon
Last updated March 17, 2015

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. The 2014 minimum Oregon population was 77 wolves, which includes wolves in nine known packs and several known wolf pairs. Eight of those wolf packs were “breeding pairs,” meaning they had at least two pups in spring 2014 that survived through Dec. 31, 2014. It is possible that there are more wolves in Oregon but it can be difficult to document every wolf, especially lone wolves. 

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?

Wolves are considered endangered statewide by Oregon’s Endangered Species Act. Wolves west of Hwys 395-78-95 are also on the federal Endangered Species List. West of this boundary, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the lead management agency. East of this boundary, ODFW is responsible for wolf management. Most current wolf activity occurs east of Hwys 395-78-95.

Wolves found east of Hwys 395-78-95 are managed under Phase II of the state’s Wolf Plan.

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 originally 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-tracking 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 in 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. Any 2015 review will not occur until after ODFW completes a wolf status review related to its Endangered Species Act listing (see more information below).

Wolf management

When will wolves be removed from the Oregon Endangered Species List?

The Wolf Plan states that ODFW can begin the process to delist wolves from the state ESA after four breeding pairs of wolves are present in eastern Oregon for three consecutive years.

A breeding pair is an adult male and an adult female wolf that have produced at least two pups that survive to December 31 of the year of their birth. Oregon’s wolves met that threshold at the end of 2014.

The ESA requires that other factors be considered before delisting. ODFW staff are currently working on a status review of wolves and are scheduled to present their findings to the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their April 2015 meeting in Bend. At that time, the Commission may choose to open a public process to consider delisting wolves from the state ESA, or not.

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

The current Wolf Plan does not set a population cap for wolves. The 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 five breeding pairs or climb to unmanageable levels that cause conflicts with other land uses.

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

The fiscal biennium 2013-15 wolf program budget is $641,004 which covers ODFW’s wolf monitoring programs, responses to livestock depredation, equipment needs and the cost of two full time wolf management employees.

Funding comes from a variety of sources including the State Wildlife Grant program, Pittman-Robertson funds and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grants. Some of these federal grants require state match which comes from a combination of ODFW license dollars and lottery funds. No state general fund dollars (e.g. income tax) are used to support ODFW’s wolf program budget.

Who at ODFW works on wolves?

ODFW currently has two full time wolf biologists. They work in the La Grande office in northeast Oregon. Field staff at ODFW’s field offices may 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 Dec 31, 2014, 114 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 summaries 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?

Four 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. In both situations, landowners and wildlife managers first tried a variety of non-lethal measures to avoid wolf-livestock conflict.

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

Typical methods include:

  • Removing bone piles and carcasses that can attract wolves
  • Fladry (flagged fencing, sometimes electrified) around livestock operations which can deter wolves in some situations.
  • RAG (radio-activated guard) boxes that emit a noise when a collared wolf approaches
  • Guard dogs
  • Monitoring of wolf locations and providing that information to area landowners
  • Range rider (to monitor and haze wolves away from livestock where necessary). ODFW and/or Defenders of Wildlife have funded a range rider in Wallowa County for some time.
  • 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 a realistic tool when livestock are grazing over a wide area. Wolves can also grow accustomed to fladry and RAG boxes, so these tools do not stay effective forever. 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) but may not harm or injure the wolf in any way.

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

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.

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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.

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. See the Caught in Act Lethal Control section for more information.

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 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. West of Hwys 395-78-95, wolves are also 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. Print handout of information (pdf)

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

The advice is similar to what to do if you encounter a cougar or bear.

  • Don’t run.
  • Stare directly at the wolf and don’t turn your back on it. If you are with a companion, and more than one wolf is present, place yourselves back to back and retreat slowly while acting aggressively.
  • Use air horns or other noisemakers.
  • Use bear spray or firearms if necessary (fire a shot into the air).
  • Stand your ground if a wolf attacks you and fight with any means possible. Use sticks, rocks, ski poles, fishing rods or whatever you can find.

(Information from Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game)

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)
elk
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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