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Annual report finds Oregon wolves continue to spread, while livestock attack cases are down

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GRANTS PASS, Oregon — An annual report finds that wolves continued to grow in numbers and spread across Oregon in 2014, while livestock-attack cases were down.

The report released Tuesday by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will be a key document as the state Fish and Wildlife Commission considers taking wolves off the state endangered species list in coming months.

Biologists found 77 wolves, compared with 64 last year. For the first time, there is a pack in the southern Cascades, as well as another pair of wolves.

Wallowa County rancher Todd Nash, chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association wolf committee, said the report "bodes well" for delisting, showing wolves continue to thrive.

While acknowledging that preventative measures for reducing wolf attacks on livestock were working, he felt that wolves in counties with intensive prevention efforts were moving to other locations, such as Baker County and remote national forest grazing allotments. He added that ranchers were noticing more missing cattle, and there were likely many more than the census documented because of the difficulty of finding every wolf.

Steve Pedery of the conservation group Oregon Wild says a slow rate of population growth should give the commission reason to move slowly on delisting.

PHOTO: FILE - In this March 24, 2013 file photo, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist draws blood from a member of the Snake River pack in northeastern Oregon. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015 the latest wolf census finds that wolves continued to grow in numbers and spread across Oregon in 2014, while livestock attack cases were down. (AP photo/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)
FILE - In this March 24, 2013 file photo, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist draws blood from a member of the Snake River pack in northeastern Oregon. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015 the latest wolf census finds that wolves continued to grow in numbers and spread across Oregon in 2014, while livestock attack cases were down. (AP photo/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

"You'll struggle to find a credible scientist willing to say a couple dozen wolves in the northeast corner of the state is a real recovery," Pedery said in a statement. "ODFW must resist giving into political pressure, declare mission accomplished, and turn their back on important protections for wolves that have gotten this far."

The federal government has lifted wolf protections in the eastern third of the state, and it has proposed lifting them in the western two-thirds of the state.

The number of wolves in Oregon has been steadily growing since the first pack was documented in 2009. They are descended from wolves reintroduced into the Northern Rockies in the 1990s. Until then, the last known wolf in Oregon was shot in 1946 by a bounty hunter in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide area of the southern Cascades.

Oregon now has nine packs, with eight of them producing pups. Among them is the Rogue pack in the southern Cascades, with the famous wandering wolf OR-7 at its head. He and his mate had three pups survive to the end of the year. Another pair has established itself in nearby territory to the south. He and his pack have not been blamed for a livestock attack. The report said GPS tracking collar data showed 82 percent of his 355-square-mile territory is on public lands.

The Imnaha pack, Oregon's first, has a new alpha female, who did not produce pups this year.

Four of the nine confirmed packs attacked livestock in 2014, the report said. They were the Imnaha, Mt. Emily, Umatilla River and Meacham packs, as well as a group of wolves in the Chesnimnus area. There were 11 confirmed cases of wolf attacks on livestock, down from 13 in 2013. The number of livestock lost was up sharply, due to a rise in sheep deaths. Three cattle were confirmed killed, and 30 sheep, compared with six sheep and five cattle in 2013. Most attacks came in spring and fall.

The state wolf compensation fund paid $8,482 for dead livestock, the bulk of it in Wallowa County, and $33,878 for missing livestock, with more than half of that in Baker County. A total of $105,500 was spent on prevention in seven counties, with the bulk of it going to Wallowa and Umatilla counties.

Public interest was also up. The department's webpage got 193,020 views, up about 21,000 from 2013.

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