Last February, scientists captured and examined a handful of Oregon’s newest wildlife residents called “Timber Wolves.”
In a unique, state-sponsored aerial capture, a female wolf was darted and state wildlife biologist, Russ Morgan, replaced a radio collar on her.
He said the animal was well known to the experts who keep tabs on wolves in Oregon:
“Last summer, we documented that she had more than one animal with her; in fact, she had pups which means she’s an alpha female. Recently, because of the collar that we had on her, we were able to capture even more animals and put more collars on them. That really helps us to keep tabs on their movements and their behaviors.”
Morgan said there have been scattered wolf sightings not just in the Wallowa Mountains but the Cascade Mountains too.
He said that should not be a surprise to people who have followed wolves in Oregon over the past decade.
“Because of the tremendous travel abilities of the animals, (they can range across hundreds of square miles in a short time,) we may soon find that their re-occupation in other parts of Oregon is happening simultaneously.”
While the speed of wolf migration across Oregon may not be an exact certainty, some people believe it could happen much faster because of a Washington state wolf management plan.
That new plan may bring wolves back to an unlikely location – the mountain that blew its top thirty years ago.
According to Washington wildlife biologist, Rocky Beach, the Washington plan suggests that wolves could someday be moved from Northeastern Washington where two packs currently live, to the Olympic Peninsula and even Mt St Helens.
“Some people really value having that wildness associated with the wolf come back into the eco-system and would like to see them widely distributed (acros Washington) so that maybe someday, they’d see them.”
Wolves might do well at Mt St Helens because biologists say there are more elk than the habitat can support.
In fact, there could be thousands of elk that exceed the available food supply.
We saw that last winter when we visited Mark Smith – who - along with Bruce Barnes - spent their own money to feed the elk rather than let them starve.
Mark Smith noted there could be some serious problems with the idea of relocating wolves to Mt St Helens.
“If they do bring wolves in to the mountain region it’s important to remember that the food surplus doesn’t last forever. So what happens once you deplete the elk surplus? What will you have then - a surplus of wolves?”
Barnes added that the scenario could have unintended consequences:
“What kind of conflict will that create when you’ve got humans in an area, an animal that doesn’t know where it’s food source is and they’re hungry? It creates a very hostile situation.”
Washington officials insist that the Washington Wolf Plan is under peer review and not slated for approval until the end of the year.
Spokesperson Rocky Beach added that it is also important to remember that wolves are a native wildlife species.
He also admitted that some areas of the state may be better suited than others:
“At this point, since we have only 2 packs and 12 confirmed wolves in the state it’s a little early to be talking about moving them around. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it which is probably several years away.”
Back in Oregon, one thing is certain: after being hunted to extinction more than seventy years ago, a top line predator has returned to Oregon’s outdoor landscape. How soon the population expands across other parts of the state remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s current wolf population continues to be controversial. For example, a state approved “kill permit” for two Oregon wolves that have been linked to livestock deaths is being reviewed by a judge. We continue to cover that part of the story and will have more on Oregon’s wolves later this summer.