Two wolves were spotted in north Central Oregon, and there’s reason to believe they might not just be passing through.

On Jan. 4, a trail camera operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recorded images of two gray wolves in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Based on wolf tracks discovered in the area, the department believes that the wolves traveled through the White River Wildlife Area and the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Jefferson County, according to Michelle Dennehy, wildlife communications coordinator for ODFW.

Elizabeth Materna, public affairs officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the wolves are currently using territory in southern Wasco County, which she said was the first time multiple wolves have been confirmed in Oregon’s northern Cascades since the species returned to the state.

“This is great news for anyone who values native wildlife,” added Rob Klavins, northeast Oregon field coordinator for the Portland-based environmental nonprofit Oregon Wild.

Klavins said gray wolves once lived all over Oregon, but as more people began moving to the state at the beginning of the 20th century, wolf populations declined. For much of the late 20th century, there were no wolves confirmed to be living anywhere in Oregon. Wolves were reintroduced to Idaho in the 1990s, and eventually resettled in northeastern Oregon during the 2000s. As of 2016, there are at least 112 wolves living in Oregon, according to ODFW.

However, that population is still concentrated heavily in the northeast corner of the state.

Wolves have traveled through Central Oregon in the past, most famously in 2011, when OR-7 passed through parts of Deschutes and Crook counties as part of his journey across the state. Dennehy added that individual wolves were spotted in Wasco County in 2013 and 2015, but not much is known about their current whereabouts.

Materna said those wolves were likely wandering alone across the landscape in search of a mate. In this case, however, the presence of two wolves in close proximity could indicate that they are traveling together, and looking to establish territory of their own, according to Materna.

While the sex of the two wolves is not known, Klavins speculated that it could be a breeding pair. He added that wolf pairs typically mate in February, and have pups in April. If that’s the case, these wolves could represent the beginnings of a new pack in a new part of the state.

“If there’s a male and a female together, that’s a very positive sign,” Klavins said.

He said wolves can operate in a variety of terrain, provided there’s enough prey. Given the large amount of protected land in Oregon’s northern Cascade Mountains, as well as a solid prey base, he said that region of the state is a natural fit for the species to expand across.

“Whether it’s now or later, wolves are going to re-establish themselves in the Cascades,” Klavins said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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