Gray wolf OR-7 and his Rogue Pack remain the only one of Oregon’s dozen wolf packs to be in Western Oregon, but a growing list of up-and-comers heading into 2018 could mean more.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on Thursday released its official wolf report for 2017, and it lists the Rogue Pack at seven animals, up from six in 2016.
But they are joined now by two wolves in the White River area and five individual wolves documented west of the Cascade crest in 2017, four of which were confirmed in Southern Oregon, according to the report.
A pack is defined as four or more wolves traveling together in winter, while a group of wolves like the White River wolves is considered two or more wolves traveling together.
Oregon’s remaining 11 packs are in northeastern Oregon, but biologists say it’s possible others exist.
“Who knows? There could be (a pack) under our nose that we haven’t gotten our fingers on,” said Derek Broman, a carnivore biologist for ODFW. “It could be a matter of getting the right cameras in the right spot.”
Discovering them may also be a matter of getting a GPS collar on an animal that could act like a “Judas wolf” and lead biologists toward animals they don’t know about, Broman said.
Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said she believes a spate of recent wolf poachings — and studies show poaching is largely underreported — may keep potential new packs from forming here.
“I think it’s a factor you can’t discount,” Weiss said.
As for OR-7, the 8-year-old patriarch of the Rogue Pack has outlived the average age of wolves in the wild, and apparently hasn’t suffered the fate of the Pine Creek Pack patriarch, who lost his pack to a new alpha male.
“For OR-7 to be able to stay at the reins of that pack, that’s impressive,” Broman said.
Missing from the report, however, was a group of wolves documented in the Keno area west of Klamath Falls.
The so-called Keno Wolves were never seen after tracks were found in January 2017, and no reproduction was confirmed in the Keno area, suggesting that area “may simply be a corridor for wolves moving between Oregon and California,” the report states.
The first confirmed wolf wandered into Oregon from Idaho in 1999, and Oregon now sports a known population of 124 animals, up a dozen from 2016, the report states.
The increase was fueled by the highest documented reproduction since wolves re-established themselves in Oregon, with a 50 percent increase in breeding success here, the report states. All of Oregon’s packs sported two surviving pups to rate as breeding pairs, except for the Harl Butte Pack, the report states.
Based on its wolf plan, ODFW reports only known wolves, not estimates.
As wolf numbers expand, southwestern Oregon and Northern California are prime candidates for relocation, experts say.
An ODFW study concludes that 41,256 square miles of Oregon are potential wolf range, of which 27,417 square miles lie in Western Oregon, including much of southwestern Oregon.
That research points to five factors wolves prefer when dispersing from their previous packs: Forested areas, public land ownership, the availability of elk and other prey, low human presence and low road density.
Those five conditions are met in places such as eastern Jackson County’s Sky Lakes Wilderness Area, part of which the Rogue Pack calls home, as well as other south Cascades lands.
Of the 13 known wolf deaths in Oregon in 2017, 12 were human-caused, the report states. Of those, four were killed illegally, five were killed lawfully and four were killed in response to chronic livestock depredation, the report states.
Collared wolf OR-42 died of natural causes from brain inflammation from an unidentified infection, the report states.
Confirmed depredation events decreased from 24 in 2016 to 17 in 2017, including one dead calf killed in February in Jackson County by wolf OR-25, which was found dead in late October in Klamath County.
This report does not include the three calves killed at a Butte Falls-area ranch by Rogue Pack members earlier this year.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.