SALEM — Oregon’s heavy snow in January caused problems for wildlife staff who track the state’s wolf population.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said extreme weather in northeast Oregon, where most of the state’s wolves live, interrupted airplane, helicopter and ground surveys of wolfpacks. As a result, the annual wolf report has been delayed a month and won’t be delivered to the ODFW Commission until its April 21 meeting in Klamath Falls.
The report usually is released in March and typically includes an updated wolf population count and information on the number of breeding pairs in the state. The count provides an information baseline as the commission considers updates to the state’s Wolf Management and Conservation plan. The plan is reviewed every five years, and the commission will most likely adopt an updated version later in 2017.
Although heavy snow and an extended cold snap delayed ODFW’s field work, department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said it probably didn’t harm Oregon’s wolves.
“Wolves typically do quite well during the winter,” she said by email. “Winters that are hard on deer and elk may actually be easier on wolves. There is winter (prey) loss to scavenge and it is harder for ungulates (deer and elk) to escape in the deep snow.”
Oregon had a minimum of 110 wolves at the end of 2015, according to figures released by ODFW in February 2016. At least seven wolves died in 2016. Four members of Wallowa County’s Imnaha pack, including venerable alpha male OR-4, were shot by ODFW in March 2016 after repeatedly attacking, killing and eating livestock. Wildlife biologists speculated at the time that the group began attacking livestock due to OR-4’s advanced age and the fact that his longtime mate limped from an injured leg. They had two yearlings with them, and the four appeared to have separated from or been forced out of the main Imnaha pack.
In addition, a female wolf designated OR-28 was found dead in October 2016 in south-central Oregon. Officials have not said how the wolf died, and Oregon State Police are investigating. A $20,000 reward for information is available.
State police also are investigating a wolf found dead in Northeast Oregon in March 2016.
In May 2016, a sheep herder shot a wolf from the Walla Walla pack that was attacking sheep. State police judged the shooting was lawful under the “caught in act” provision that allows producers to kill wolves that are wounding, biting, killing or chasing livestock, according to ODFW.