Wolves in Oregon:

A Controversial Listing Discussion

Group 12: Maizy, Russel, Anna, Wyatt

Grey Wolf Population Status in Oregon

The current population of gray wolves throughout the United States is approximately 15,000 individuals. However, 10,000 or more of those individuals are located in Alaska, leaving only around 5,000 wolves spread across the contiguous states (International Wolf Center 2020). Oregon has only recently begun supporting a small population of wolves mostly in the northeast corner of the state. The successful reintroduction efforts in the nearby states of Idaho and Wyoming has allowed for the slow migration of wolves further west. Recent reports have confirmed that there were at least 158 wolves residing in Oregon at the end of 2019, an increase of 21 individuals since 2018 (Center for Biological Diversity 2020). It is important to note that the current recorded number of wolves in Oregon is the amount directly counted by researchers during their winter survey. This means that the actual number of wolves in the state is likely to be higher as individuals can be missed during the duration of the count.

Wolf activity in Oregon is heavily focused in the counties of Baker, Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa. Additionally, there are known to be wolves as far west as the cascade mountain range in the Douglas, Lake, Lane, and Wasco counties.


The known wolves are separated into 30 distinct groups (two or more wolves traveling together) and 22 packs (groups of at least four wolves traveling together in winter). Out of all wolf groups included in the Oregon wolf population, 22 of them were successful in reproductive efforts, and 18 contained at least two pups at the end of the year. There are nine wolves that do not belong to any group in the Oregon population but still reside in the state (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2020).

There were seven wolf deaths recorded in Oregon during 2019, the same amount as in 2018. One death was found to have likely been caused by a bacterial infection. Six of these deaths were caused by humans and 5 of those were a result of a vehicular collision. One wolf was legally killed by a livestock owner protecting his dog (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2020). Considering the current reproductive trends of the population and no substantial increase in deaths, it appears the Oregon population of wolves will continue to grow.

Habitat Status for Oregon Wolves

In Oregon, the current wolf population that immigrated from Idaho in 2009 is living in similar locations as Idaho’s Rocky mountain regions. The grey wolf (Canis lupus) has a wide range of locations that it can thrive in including grasslands, deserts, tundra, and mountainous woodlands (Oregon Wild 2020). Currently, the wolves in Oregon mostly reside in the Northeast region of the state which is made up of desert and mountain woodland areas (Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office 2019). This habitat choice coincides with the historical natural habitat of the wolves. There are two other packs (the Indigo and Rogue packs) found in Oregon that reside in the Cascades which once again are in a mountainous woodland region. A lone wolf was also found 10 miles from the Oregon coast in 2018 which is a forest-based region as well (Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office 2019).

Considering this information, almost all of Oregon consists of great habitat in which wolves can live and have enough resources to persist. However, there is a problem that is presently occurring with the wolf populations in the form of urbanization of different regions in Oregon. When urbanization occurs fragmented habitat is created that can limit the area that wolves rely on. This general fragmentation could potentially lower populations or cause emigration to surrounding states. When considering the packs residing near the Cascade mountains, they will either have to relocate or adapt to urbanization and industrialization in the areas where they live. 

Here is a video showing the wild aspects of wolves in their habitat.

Primary threats to the Grey wolf

Primary threats to Oregon Grey Wolves have largely been from humans. Before they were listed as an endangered species, Oregon wolves were killed through predator control programs. Beginning in the 1840s, European settlers developing large livestock operations set bounties to kill wolves. And in the early 1900s, trapping and killing techniques were backed and funded by the federal government. These control problems often used various poisons as a tool to kill wolves (deCalesta 1976). This was done to the extent that eventually all wolf populations were eradicated from the state. Since their return and population growth, Oregon wolf mortality is still predominantly human-caused. Their greatest threats today include illegal taking, poaching, and vehicle collisions (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2015). Other threats to the species are a variety of diseases and a lack of genetic diversity.

The outlook for recovery of Oregon’s wolves

The outlook for the recovery of the Oregon wolf population is quite complicated. On one hand, the population is currently increasing in the state. There are active breeding pairs with pups and more wolves are migrating in from the nearby states of Idaho and Wyoming. These are very good signs for the incredibly small population that could easily collapse due to widespread disease or a natural disaster. If left alone there is a good possibility of recovery for the species. It is now up to regulation at the state and federal level to determine the fate of wolves in Oregon. 

Currently, humans pose the greatest threat to the wolf population and there is a divide on how they should be handled. One third of residents in wolf territory believe that wolves should be eliminated from the region and three out of four residents believe that hunting wolves should be allowed in some capacity (Hamilton et al. 2020). There is a disconnect between the rural communities where wolves are present and the urban communities in the state. Rural communities have an economy affected by wolf predation on livestock and therefore have more reason to want them removed. While there is compensation for property losses, the cultural fear of wolves and their financial impact may continue to create resistance to their protection.

Recovery options for Oregon wolves

Because grey wolves in Oregon already have an established population, the recovery of wolves is best focused on expanding and creating healthier populations of the wolves that already reside in the state. With this in mind, translocations of wolves to other suitable habitats, such as the Cascades, could be a viable option. Mountainous, forested areas with lower human population would be the best locations for translocation efforts based on habitat preference and human-wolf interactions (Oregon Wild 2020).

Another option for recovery could be tracking and monitoring the locations and conditions of present packs within Oregon. This process was used with the Mexican grey wolf species in the southern part of the United States in which every individual was identified and tracked with collars (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service 2020). These locating efforts can help species recovery in many ways by improving relationships with ranchers and decreasing livestock deaths. By keeping relations between the public and the grey wolves positive, the recovery outcomes are more beneficial for both parties.

This video shows how a population can benefit from positive rancher relationships (Arizona Game and Fish)

Finally, the greatest threats to the Oregon wolf population are deadly human interactions. The majority of recorded deaths have been caused by vehicle collisions but the intentional killing of wolves will become increasingly frequent as their population increases. One option to improve the recovery efforts is to only allow non-lethal wolf deterrent methods. Requiring livestock owners to remove carcasses and other predator attractants as well as improving the protection of their property would help prevent wolf encounters (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2020). It will be important for outreach to be present as the wolf population expands its range and more people need to be informed about how to prevent encounters. Additionally, there needs to be proper compensation for livestock depredation to begin removing the negative perception of wolves in rural communities. 

In 2019 there was $178,319 provided by the Oregon Department of Agriculture to compensate for wolf-related attacks on livestock, to improve preventative measures and deter wolves, and to provide information about wolf activity and prevention for multiple counties (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife 2020). Continuing to provide financial support through government grants and programs will make citizens less likely to view the presence of wolves as a financial threat. This should open the door for more conservation efforts as wolves lose their negative stigma. Overall, by improving relationships, the options for wolf recovery in Oregon will be far more successful.

Evidence opposing the listing of wolves in Oregon

When looking at the listing designation for wolves in Oregon it can be a tricky subject. There are many different viewpoints that influence the opinions and decisions that are made on the topic. To begin, there are many examples of evidence that oppose the listing of wolves in Oregon. When considering the listing of an animal on the endangered species list, economic ideals are not used in the decision. Keeping this fact in mind, there are a lot of arguments from Oregonians that use economic values to support their arguments. For example, many ranchers and farmers alike would like wolves in Oregon to be delisted because of livestock losses caused by wolf kills. But, according to Oregon Public broadcasting, even as the wolf population is increasing, the livestock kills are not increasing at the same rate (Schick 2018).

Another argument that has been presented to keep the delisting of Oregon wolves is that the population of wolves has remained stable and is steadily growing in numbers. According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, there are at least 150 individuals within the state of Oregon and because of the large metapopulation of wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Canada, it is very likely that this population will add to the Oregon population as time goes on (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service 2019). This increase in population from outside sources can add to the genetic diversity of the wolves and increase the overall resiliency of the western portion of the grey wolf species. Additionally, the wolves in Oregon are still protected by Oregon’s state plan and wildlife policy that continues to manage healthy populations of wolves for the future (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service 2019).

Evidence that supports the listing of wolves in Oregon

On the other side of things, there is a large group of people that believe that the Oregon grey wolf population should continue to be listed. Many individuals believe that the decision to delist the wolf species was rushed and unbacked by scientific evidence and mainly focused on the economic gains of others. These views are very well represented in the following video: 

(Predator Defense)

In addition to the many voices that say the evidence isn’t sufficient, there also is a problem that can be seen with the ancestry of the Pacific Northwest wolf population. In a paper written by Hendricks et al. they examined the genetic basis of the Oregon grey wolf population. According to their analysis because the wolves are a mix of multiple groups of wolves, they should be classified as another subspecies, allowing them to be separately listed as endangered (Hendricks et al. 2018).

Overall, there is definitely a clash of opinions when it comes to the listing of the grey wolf. In Oregon there are many views surrounding the management of wolves as can be seen in the graph:

(Hamilton 2020).

Although it may never be decided who is in the right and who is in the wrong, it still is important to keep species at the forefront when considering the endangered species act.

Works Cited

Center for Biological Diversity, A. W. (April 2020). Oregon’s Wolf Population Grows to 22 Packs, 158 Animals. https://biologicaldiversity. org/w/news/press-releases/oregons-wolf-population-grows-to-22-packs-158-animals-2020-04-15/

deCalesta, D. (1976). Predator control: History and policies. Oregon State University Extension Services.

Hamilton, L. C., Lambert, J. E., Lawhon, L. A., Salerno, J., Hartter, J. (May 2020). Wolves Are Back: Sociopolitical Identity and Opinions on Management of Canis Lupus. Society for Conservation Biology, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, /csp2.213.

Hendricks, S, Schweizer, R, Harrigan, R, Pollinger, J, Paquet, P, Darimont, C, Adams, J, Waits, L, vonHoldt, B, Hohenlohe, P, and Wayne, R. (2018). Natural re-colonization and admixture of wolves (Canis lupus) in the US Pacific Northwest: challenges for the protection and management of rare and endangered taxa. Heredity, 122(2), 133–149.

International Wolf Center. (2020). Home.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. (2020). Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management 2019 Annual Report. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. oregon_wolf_program/2019_Annual_Wolf_Report_FINAL.pdf.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. (2015). Updated biological status review for the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) in Oregon and evaluation of criteria to remove the Gray Wolf from the List of Endangered Species under the Oregon Endangered Species Act. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. http://www.dfw.state /15/11_november/Exhibit %20B_Attachment%203_Updated%20Biological%20Status%20Review.pdf

Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office. (October 2019). Gray Wolf. U.S Fish and WIldlife Service.   

Oregon Wild. (2020). Gray Wolf. Oregon Wild.

Schick, T. (June 2018). Oregon Wolf Population Increases, With Jump In Livestock Attacks. OPB, -attacks-on-livestock/.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2019). Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing the Gray Wolf (Canis Lupus) from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. -2018-0097-0001.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2020). Mexican Wolf Recovery. U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. /es/mexicanwolf/