A possible new wolf pack is roaming Eastern Oregon after wildlife biologists confirmed finding tracks from five animals near Medical Springs in Union County.
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife first documented tracks in late December, based on reports from a landowner in the area. Tracks were found again three more times last month, stretching into northern Baker County.
While little is known about the exact location of the pack, a designated Area of Known Wolf Activity was mapped in the southern Catherine Creek and northern Keating wildlife management units. Size was estimated by looking at the range and behavior of other packs across the region.
Wolf packs are typically defined as consisting of a male, female and their offspring. For purposes of monitoring, a pack can also mean four or more wolves traveling together over winter, and this group of wolves meets that definition.
ODFW will attempt to collar one of the new wolves to learn more about their territory and breeding status, said spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy. It is still too early to know if there is a breeding pair or pups within the group of five.
“There is evidence that they have used this area over several weeks, so we know they’re not just dispersing,” Dennehy said. “We don’t know much more about them yet.”
The as yet unnamed pack would be Oregon’s eighth. The Imnaha, Umatilla River, Wenaha, Snake River, Walla Walla, Minam and Mount Emily packs also inhabit the state’s northeast corner. Total wolf figures in 2013 are not yet available, though 46 were counted at the end of 2012.
Wolves remain listed under the state Endangered Species Act, and are federally protected west of highways 395, 78 and 95. Management is done by ODFW to conserve populations, while mitigating damage from livestock depredation.
No incidents of depredation have been reported with the new group. ODFW will work with ranchers in the area to let them know about rules and different preventative measures for minimizing wolf-livestock conflicts.
Non-lethal measures are required before ODFW will use lethal control against wolves. In order to count as a “qualifying incident,” a pack must prey on livestock four times within a six-month period. These incidents must be investigated by ODFW and be confirmed depredations by the agency.
Confirmed depredations only qualify toward lethal control if livestock producers had preventative measures already in place.
Once a wolf kills livestock for the first time, an Area of Depredating Wolves is established. At that point, livestock producers must use preventative measures for a depredation to qualify.
It is up to producers to remove, treat or dispose of all known and reasonably accessible attractants on the property, such as bone piles. Finally, ranchers must have in place one additional deterrent — such as fladry fencing or range riders — to protect livestock.
No packs have met all the lethal control criteria. Most recently, there was confirmed depredation of a ewe Jan. 30 by the Imnaha Pack on Upper Prairie Creek in Wallowa County. A report on whether this is a “qualifying incident” is still pending.
Before delisting wolves, wildlife managers need to observe four breeding pairs for three consecutive years, each with two pups that survive through the end of the year. Oregon met that requirement for the first time in 2012, and 2013 could mark the second time depending on final year-end survey results.