Last updated April 2022
Click here to read or download an abbreviated, printable version of Frequently Asked Questions about Wolves (pdf)
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). ODFW 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 in Oregon is higher than the minimum count.
The minimum Oregon wolf count for 2021 was 175 wolves. ODFW documented 21 packs (four or more wolves traveling together in winter) with 16 breeding pairs of wolves in 2021. A breeding pair is an adult male and female wolf with at least two pups, which survive through the end of the year.
For a map and more information, see the Oregon Wolf Population webpage or visit the Specific Wolves and Wolf Packs page for current monitoring information on packs and areas of new resident wolf activity.
As of Feb. 11, 2022, wolves west of Highways 395-78-95 are again listed on the federal Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes management decisions regarding harassment and take of wolves in response to wolf-livestock conflict in this region. Wolves east of Highways 395-78-95 are federally delisted and managed under the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Wolf Plan) with full authority to make decisions on harassment and take.
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 and protected by statute throughout the state.
There are two wolf management zones under the Wolf Plan 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 phases are 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 deterrent measures to prevent wolf-livestock conflict remain the first choice of Oregon wildlife managers. These non-lethal preventative measures are required in all phases of wolf management before ODFW will consider lethal control of wolves due to chronic livestock depredation.
There is no general season sport hunting of wolves allowed in any phase of the Wolf Plan. In Phase III where 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.
No. The wolves currently in Oregon migrated naturally (walked) into the state 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. While allowed under certain circumstances in the Wolf Plan, to date wolves have also never been moved from one part of Oregon to another.
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.
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 1980s 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. The weights of wolves that have returned to Oregon or been born here in the last few years are similar. Adults have weighed an average of 89 lbs, with the highest weight recorded about 115 lbs.
Wolves are 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.
The plan was first 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.
The plan is usually reviewed every five years. It was reviewed and updated in October 2010 with small changes to make managing wolf-livestock conflicts more practical. It was changed again in July 2013 due to a lawsuit settlement agreement. The most recent update was adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in June 2019.
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 (Hwys 97/20/395). 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.
The majority of wolf program funding for the 2021-2023 biennium consists of federal funds from the Pittman-Robertson Grant Program.
The federal grant budget allocation for the 2021-2023 biennium is $785,758. This grant requires 25% state match that comes from a combination of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife license dollars (9%) and Lottery Funds (16%). Two full time employees are associated with the program.
In 2019, the Oregon Legislature and Governor approved the hiring of three additional full time wolf biologists. For the 2021-2023 biennium, they allocated $917,852 of the General Fund to pay for these positions and their supplies. Oregon General Fund dollars come from income taxes paid by individuals and businesses.
ODFW currently has five full time wolf biologists. Two biologists coordinate statewide wolf program activities out of the East Region (La Grande) office in northeast Oregon. Three wolf biologists work regionally out of the Enterprise, Prineville and Central Point field offices. District biologists at ODFW’s field offices also conduct wolf management activities when there are wolves in their area.
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.
Before 2011, the organization Defenders of Wildlife funded a compensation program in Oregon and other Rocky Mountain states for many years.
Domestic animals can die for a variety of reasons, including predation (wolf, cougar, coyote, bear, domestic dog, etc.), weather, disease and 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 from predation, further examination of the carcass and other evidence is needed to determine if wolves (rather than cougars, bears, coyotes, etc.) 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
As of December 31, 2021, 312 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.
Twenty-four Oregon wolves have been killed by ODFW or authorized agents in response to chronic depredations of livestock between September 2009 and December 2021. In all situations, livestock producers and wildlife managers first tried a variety of non-lethal measures to avoid and/or reduce wolf-livestock conflict. In addition, three wolves have been killed by livestock producers as they caught wolves in the act of attacking or chasing their livestock or working dogs. More information about wolves that were removed is available on Wolf Program Updates page.
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.
- Foxlights® and other noise and light scare devices.
- RAG (radio-activated guard) boxes that emit noise and light when a collared wolf approaches.
- Livestock protection dogs to protect livestock and alert people so they can respond.
- Monitoring of wolf locations, wolf sign, and sharing that information with area producers so they can use it in management decisions.
- Range rider (an employee hired to monitor and haze wolves away from livestock where necessary).
- Livestock producers hazing wolves away from livestock.
- Using low-stress livestock handling to encourage the mother-calf bond and herding instinct of cattle (increases ability of cattle to defend themselves from wolves).
- 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. Selecting the proper tools and avoiding overexposure of wolves to the same deterrents is critical for long-term success. ODFW works with landowners to determine which preventive tool(s) are appropriate. More on depredation deterrents.
No. However, before ODFW can authorize the killing of wolves due to livestock losses, efforts to prevent or solve the situation using non-lethal methods appropriate to the situation must be tried and documented.
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 (pursuit is not allowed).
Livestock producers should consult the management zone-specific pages (West Wolf Management Zone, East – Federally Listed Management Zone, East – Federally Delisted Management Zone) to understand their options.
Like other large carnivores (bears, cougars) wolves will tend to avoid people. Dangerous wolf-human interactions 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. More information for if you encounter a wolf.
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 east of Hwys 395/78/95.
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. 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).
Wolf hybrids are regulated as domestic dogs in Oregon. ODFW 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 wolves and wolf hybrids.
Pure-bred wolves held in captivity are regulated by ODFW. They are only permitted in Oregon if held in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited facility, unless specifically approved by ODFW.
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.
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.
Coyote hunters need to be aware that wolves can easily be mistaken for coyotes, (especially juvenile wolves 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)
No, nor has there been an attack in surrounding states (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho) since wolves dispersed into Montana and were reintroduced into Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Wolves have attacked people in Canada and Alaska but this is very rare. In the last 100 years, two people have been known to be killed by wolves in North America.
First make sure the wolf knows that you are there and that you are human. The wolf may not have smelled or seen you if the wind is carrying your scent away from the wolf or if you have been sitting or standing motionless. Simply moving, raising your arms, and talking will alert the wolf and usually cause it to move away quickly (see video). In the unlikely event that a wolf threatens you, here is what to do:
- Stay calm.
- Raise your voice and speak firmly.
- 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.
Echinococcus granulosis is a type of tapeworm common to domestic dogs, coyotes, foxes, and wolves. It is endemic and is a natural part of the wolf’s ecology. Ungulates (e.g., 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 both wild and domestic canids and wild ungulates 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. Echinococcus has been identified in some Oregon wolves. This is not unexpected since the parasite is a part of the ecology of the wolf. Hydatid cysts were documented in a deer carcass from Grant County, Oregon in 1977, before wolves recolonized Oregon, so the parasite may have been maintained in the coyote and fox populations.
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 (wear gloves) when handling dog or wolf feces.
Print handout of information (pdf)
|Rocky Mountain Cow Elk and Calf
- Photo by Nick Myatt-
The experience of states with more established wolf populations, like Montana, suggests the impact will vary according to many factors (e.g., 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.
Big game hunting tags have not been reduced due to wolves in any Oregon wildlife management unit.
Healthy big game populations are important for Oregon’s citizens and local economies 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 and controlled take of wolves. For more information, see Chapter 5 (Wolf-Ungulate Interactions) of the Wolf Plan.