Monday, September 25, 2006

Suspected wolf on Zumwalt may be vanguard in Oregon

By Elane Dickenson

Biologists have not yet been able to positively confirm the presence of a young black wolf on the Zumwalt Prairie of Wallowa County, despite a videotape taken in about mid-July by an archery hunter from Eugene, who was scouting the area. The U.S. Wildlife Service and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have since received a couple of other possible sightings in the area, one from a fence builder about three weeks who initially suspected that the animal might have been a dog, according to Craig Ely, Northeast Oregon Regional Director based in La Grande.

Ely said that biologist spent 10 or 12 days in the evenings looking for the animal with no success, and sent a plane over the prairie in the search after that most recent report. "If it's a wolf, they move around a lot," Ely said, adding that while the animal could be a wolf hybrid, or even a dog gone wild, but it could also be a wolf. "My assessment is that, as an agency, we believe there are wolves in Oregon, we just haven't confirmed it yet�Sooner or later, Oregon will be recolonized with wolves from Idaho."

While Oregon passed it's own wolf management plan this year, the wolf is still listed as an endangered species and Ely said that federal law "is the law of the land" as far as wolves are concerned and the federal fish and wildlife service is the lead agency. He said, if biologists are able to capture a wolf, a radio collar would be placed on it and it would be released. Ely said that would allow the animal to be tracked and that ranchers - who are not allowed to shoot the federally protected wolf - be kept apprised of its whereabouts.

The suspected wolf appears to be a young "sub adult" animal, the equivalent of a human teenager, Ely said.

Wallowa County ranchers have taken the lead on opposing the presence of wolves in Oregon and county commissioner Ben Boswell was on the committee that formulated the wolf plan for the state, though he feels the plan is not completed until there is a provision for financial compensation for ranchers, a provision for ranchers to "take" a wolf under limited circumstances and the wolf is reclassified at the federal level as a "game animal with a special status" (by permit only). He said there is an attempt in the works for an amendment to the federal plan to exempt Oregon

"I'm not surprised," Boswell said about the recent unconfirmed sightings of wolves in Wallowa County. "The thing started with their introduction in Idaho. That's been remarkably successful; they've been breeding like rabbits."

Oregon has had three confirmed sightings of wolves, the most recent six years ago. One was a female with a radio collar who was tracked in 1999 from the Brownlee reservoir area in Baker County to near John Day, where it was captured and sent back to Idaho. In 2000, two wolves were killed in Oregon: one in was hit by a vehicle south of Baker City and one illegally shot near Ukiah.

"We've had over 90 sightings in Oregon since then, some with merit and some with no merit, but none of them have been confirmed," Ely said. Another recent report of a wolf sighting close to home was in the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Union County, according to Ely. In early August, someone reported seeing two adults and two pups. "A considerable amount of time" was spent following up on the report, and finally "one animal was seen at a great distance," Ely said.

  • Wallowa County Chieftain