SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s gray wolf population grew in 2020 with 15 more wolves documented in the state, wildlife officials said.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released its annual Wolf Conservation and Management report Wednesday, which included a minimum known count of 173 wolves.
The count is based on verified evidence such as tracks, sightings and photos from remote cameras, The Capital Press reported.
Wolves started returning to Oregon in 1999 following decades of effort toward eradicating the species across the West. The Wenaha pack was the first to become re-established in the far northeast corner of Oregon in 2008.
“While northeast Oregon continues to host the majority of the state’s wolf population, dispersal to other parts of Oregon and adjacent states continues,” said Roblyn Brown, the agency's wolf program coordinator.
The total number of 22 wolf packs remained the same as 2019. Of those, 17 qualified as having breeding pairs, with an adult female, adult male and at least two pups that survived to Dec. 31.
The annual growth rate for Oregon’s wolves over the past five years has averaged around 9.4%, which is below the expected increase for a wolf population still in the early stages of recovery, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“It’s great that for two years in a row now, the state didn’t kill any wolves for conflicts with livestock,” said Amaroq Weiss, a West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But it’s still deeply concerning that the overall population increased so little and that there was so much illegal killing of wolves.”
The report documents nine known wolf deaths in 2020 with seven of those caused by people. Four of those involve wolves killed illegally. Three of those killings remain under investigation.
Additionally, in February, five wolves were found dead in Union County, and an investigation into the cause of their deaths is ongoing.
Fish and Wildlife confirmed 31 livestock depredations in 2020, up 94% from 2019. Nearly half of those were attributed to the Rogue pack, whose range straddles Jackson and Klamath counties in southwest Oregon.
Gray wolves were removed from the federal Endangered Species Act across the Lower 48 states in January under a rule finalized by the Trump administration. Environmental groups are suing to overturn the delisting.