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Idaho wolf spotted in northeast Oregon

Wildlife - The radio-collared female is the first live wolf seen in Oregon since March 1999

By Richard Cockle
The Oregonian

A gray wolf from Idaho was spotted from the air Wednesday by wildlife biologists on a flight over the western fringes of northeast Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness.

The radio-collared female was the fifth -- but only the second living -- wolf identified in Oregon in eight years. The sighting validates beliefs that wolves have been migrating into the state from Idaho, Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in La Grande, said Thursday in announcing the sighting.

The animal is a 2- to 3-year-old female that biologists are calling B-300. She probably weighed 80 pounds to 90 pounds and has been wearing a radio collar since Idaho biologists captured her northeast of Boise in August 2006, Morgan said.

The wolf was spotted in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest between Medical Springs and Wallowa near the boundary of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Ranchers reported seeing her near the town of Wallowa several days earlier.

"It is obvious this animal is moving," Morgan said. "What we don't know is if it has stopped moving. . . . It would not surprise me to see an animal stay in country like that."

A radio signal from B-300 was picked up Jan. 17, and a ground search turned up tracks the next day that appeared to be of a wolf, he said. Searchers in an aircraft failed to pick up the signal Jan. 21, but visually identified the wolf Wednesday.

B-300 is the only living wolf that biologists have seen in Oregon since they captured a radio-collared female gray wolf near John Day and returned it to Idaho in March 1999.

Since then, the other wolves found in Oregon have been dead. The toll includes the carcass of a collared wolf along Interstate 84 south of Baker City in 2000, and a wolf without a radio collar found shot between Ukiah and Pendleton. Last July, the body of a mature female that died of a gunshot wound was discovered in Union County.

Last October, a rancher checking cattle found tracks of two wolves walking side by side near the southern edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, said Morgan. Later, biologists followed the tracks of a single wolf 10 miles north of Elgin, he said.

"It appears to me there are individual wolves traveling across much of this area," Morgan said. "It is pretty difficult to put a number to them."

Wolves were reintroduced in 1995 in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, and Idaho's wolf population has been estimated from 500 to 700. Biologists have long expected the canine predators to spread into Oregon by swimming the Snake River or crossing at a bridge or dam.

"We will continue to look for more radio collars," Morgan said. "There are a significant number of missing collars in Idaho." Following collared Idaho wolves that show up in Oregon can show biologists where other recently arrived wolves are located, he said.

"It's bad news," said La Grande-area rancher Sharon Beck of the sighting. "With any luck at all, it will just keep moving."

Beck wrote the minority report for a Wolf Conservation and Management Plan adopted three years ago by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission that established a goal of four breeding pairs each in eastern and western Oregon. She believes their presence puts ranchers' livestock and rural children at risk.

Gray wolves that enter Oregon are listed as endangered species under state and federal laws. Killing animals protected under the federal Endangered Species Act is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and a year in jail, or both.

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to remove the wolf from the endangered list in the Northern Rockies including part of Oregon, but it will remain federally listed until that process is complete.

Richard Cockle: 541-963-8890; rcockle@oregonwireless.net

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