Oregon’s wolf population increased by 10% in 2018, according to the most recent report from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The agency’s annual wolf report, which was released Monday, notes that at least 137 gray wolves live in Oregon, up from 124 wolves the year prior.

The report, which tracks the recovery of gray wolves as the predators reestablish themselves in the state, also says there were 16 packs in the state last year, up from 12 in 2017. The uptick is the largest single-year increase since 2009, when the agency began tracking the data.

Michelle Dennehy, communications coordinator for ODFW, said the state also welcomed two new groups of wolves in the Oregon Cascades since the start of 2018: one in Wasco County near Mount Hood, and one in the Umpqua National Forest. Both groups are the first confirmed to inhabit those regions since wolves returned to Oregon.

Sean Stevens, executive director of the Portland-based environmental group Oregon Wild, said he was glad to see the increase, calling it a testament to the animals’ resiliency.

“To have wolves in our own backyard on Mount Hood is pretty meaningful,” Stevens said.

However the number of cows, sheep and other livestock attacked by wolves spiked as well in 2018, increasing from 17 to 28. Rodger Huffman, chair for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s wolf committee, urged the state wildlife agency to be more proactive on wolf management in its upcoming management plan.

“They’re going to continue to grow regardless of what we do, until they’re at a saturation point,” Huffman said.

While gray wolves are native to Oregon, conflicts with early ranchers decimated their numbers, ODFW’s records show the state offered bounties to kill wolves, which left the state with no confirmed wolves for much of the latter half of the 20th century.

However, once wolves were reintroduced to Idaho and Montana in the 1990s, they eventually made their way back to Oregon. The most recent annual report confirms that the population of wolves living in the state remains concentrated in Northeast Oregon. Stevens expressed concern for the still-fledgling population living in Western Oregon, with the threat of being removed from the federal Endangered Species Act looming large.

“I think that’s pretty concerning that we don’t have much of an increase in other parts of the state,” he said.

Despite Stevens’ concerns, the report notes that Western Oregon added a second pack of wolves — the White River pack, near Mount Hood — and a population of wolves in the Umpqua National Forest, near the site where the last wolf bounty was recorded in 1946.

The state agency also said the number of wolves killed unlawfully declined from four wolves in 2017 to two in 2018.

Huffman stressed that the number of wolves in the report is likely a conservative estimate, due to the challenges associated with tracking the animals The true increase could be closer to 20% to 30%, he said. Given the increase in livestock killed by wolves last year, he said he hoped the state agency gives ranchers more tools to respond to wolf attacks throughout the state. ODFW is expected to present a draft of the state’s revised wolf management plan during a meeting in St. Helens on April 19.

“The bigger picture for the Cattlemen’s Association … is that we hope there’s a more realistic viewpoint about what having wolves means,” Huffman said.

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

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