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State Announces Wolf Recovery Numbers

With the state's wolf killing program on hold, conservationists celebrate recent success, express concern for the future.

Wolf recovery in Oregon got back on track in 2012, but remains tenuous.

State Announces Wolf Recovery Numbers

These wolf pups born to the Wenaha Pack in 2012 helped get recovery back on track. But their future remains tenuous (photo courtesy ODFW)

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Salem, OR Jan 16, 2013

Today the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) announced the state's wolf population has risen to at least 53 [this number was later revised by the state to 46] animals and as many as five breeding pairs. Though still mostly confined to the Northeastern corner of the state, the news was welcomed by conservationists.

The confirmation of wolf numbers comes on the heels of a number of announcements of new wolf pups, interbreeding between packs, and new science demonstrating the important and irreplaceable role wolves and other native hunters play on the landscape.

The announcement also comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of another great wolf recovery story. On December 28, 2011, a wolf known as Journey (OR-7) crossed the Oregon border to become the first wolf in California in nearly a century. The story was celebrated around the world.

The positive stories of wolf recovery in Oregon in 2012 were balanced by setbacks in neighboring states. Journey's sibling crossed the border into Idaho and was illegally killed for sport. Washington created extreme controversy when the state killed an entire wolf pack by helicopter at taxpayer expense.

2012 Wolf Map ODFWWell-known wolves from Yellowstone National Park were killed by hunters on the edge of the park causing Montana to rethink its policies. Wyoming implemented policies allowing wolves to be killed on sight by any means in the majority of the state. All told, over 900 wolves have been killed for recreation in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana since delisting from the Endangered Species Act.

After being extirpated from the state as part of a government-sponsored program of eradication in the last century, wolves began returning to Oregon in the late 1990s. Recovery has been slowed by poaching, heavy-handed management, and lingering anti-wolf sentiments from a vocal minority.

Wolves in Oregon are currently protected by the state as an endangered species. After the state killed four wolves on behalf of the livestock industry and issued several other controversial kill orders, conservationists filed a legal challenge to the state's wolf killing program late in 2011. A judge agreed the state was likely violating its own laws by killing endangered wildlife and the state has not been allowed to kill any more endangered wolves until the legal challenge is settled.

Since then, efforts to reduce livestock lost to wolves through non-lethal measures have increased. Those efforts appear to have been successful. In 2012, the number of livestock lost to wolves decreased significantly even as the population of wolves increased.

The number of breeding pairs is significant. Oregon can consider delisting wolves from endangered protections once their have been four breeding pairs for three consecutive years.

Below is the statement of Rob Klavins, wildlife advocate for Oregon Wild:

"This is great news for Oregonians who value native wildlife. We may very well look back on 2012 as the year wolf recovery got back on track in Oregon. With the state's wolf killing program on hold, recovery took hold. Wolf numbers increased and unnecessary conflict decreased.

"Oregon has demonstrated that killing wolves isn't necessary. Neighboring states have shown that it only increases conflict. With harsh policies in states places like Idaho, Oregon can no longer count on recovery elsewhere to help boost populations here. In a state that values its conservation ethic, it's critical we get it right.

"Wolf recovery remains fragile in Oregon. A decade after the first wolf swam the Snake River, the entire state is still home to only a few dozen wolves and it's likely that nearly half are less than a year old. Wolves were illegally killed in 2012 and over 900 have been killed for sport in neighboring states.

Though the news of wolf recovery fills us with hope, this is also the time of year conservationists start to get nervous. In recent years it's also been the time the Oregon Cattlemen's Association and their political allies begin busying themselves on readying their annual salvo of wolf kill-bills for the state legislative session."

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UPDATE: After discovering some wolves were double counted, ODFW revised it's population estimate down from 53 known wolves to 46. That did not include OR-7 who was in California at the time.


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