Leah Swanson question 1: What is the Species Population Status?
Though wolves in Oregon are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, it appears that there is still hope for their population numbers. The Oregon wolf population has increased by about 21 animals pushing the overall population from 137 to 158 wolves. There has also been an increase in the number of wolf packs that can be found in the state of Oregon with six new packs being added for a total of 22 packs (Weiss, 2020). The increase in the wolf population is encouraging news for conservationists though wolves are not out of the dark yet. Though 2019 saw an annual growth rate of 15% the past three years the growth rate has hovered at only about 10% with 90% of the state’s suitable habitat being absent of wolves (Weiss, 2020). This small amount of growth is mostly due to the primary threats to the species that will be discussed later in this blog. The population trend of wolves in Oregon has been labeled as stable however, wolves have had a relatively challenging time re-establishing their population in Oregon (International Wolf Center, 2017).
Wolves used to be very common in the state of Oregon but unfortunately in the 1940s, there was a deliberate effort to get rid of the animal in the area. However, the wolves’ troubles did not start in the 1940s, they started nearly 100 years earlier in 1843 with the first wolf bounty being established. The state bounty was set at $5 in 1913 with hunters being able to collect as much as $20 from the Oregon State Game Commissions bounty. The last recorded bounty being paid in 1947 (Oregon Wild, 2019). After this demolishment of their population, the wolves remained absent from Oregon until around 1999. However, it was not until 2006 with an abundance of sightings, that it was believed that wolves had begun to move back into the Northeast area of Oregon. The wolf population gradually grew over the next couple of years peaking at about 26 wolves but the growth plateaued during 2011 (Oregon Wild, 2019). In 2011 the wolf population dropped to 17 and then down to 14 which could have been detrimental to the species’ fragile recovery. Alas, the wolves evaded extinction and since 2012 the population has been gradually back on track (Oregon Wild, 2019).
Rory Corrigan Question 2 what is the status of habitat for the species?:
In 2018, most of the 16 known packs of wolves in Oregon were concentrated in northeastern Oregon, but there was active indication of westward movement by several of the packs into the Cascade region (OFWO, 2018). The concentration of wolves in this region is primarily due to the reduced presence of humans as the eastern portion of the state is much more sparsely populated, and therefore the likeliness of problematic human-wolf interaction is reduced. The habitat itself, consisting of high desert, is believed to be non-consequential as wolves have shown themselves to be highly adaptable to the varied habitats within Oregon. With packs as far north as Mt. Hood and as far south as Crater Lake, and even lone wolves as far west as the Coast Range, wolves have shown there is a wide variety of habitats within Oregon they are capable of thriving in. However, what is consequential for wolf habitat is the ability to spread over large distances, as is typical with wolf behavior, without human interaction (Oregon Wild, 2019). This is why, although the physical characteristics or ecosystem characteristics of Eastern Oregon may not make it crucial habitat, some argue the low population density and presence of large patches of wilderness on government owned land and parks does.
The status of this habitat is currently in question due to the complexity of land-ownership between state and federal lands in Oregon. As it currently stands, wolves west of Hwy 395 are under the federal Department of Fish and Wildlife jurisdiction and are federally listed. Whereas wolves east of Hwy 395, in Eastern Oregon, are under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and are not listed, instead they are subject to the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (ODFW Gray Wolves, 2020). Under this plan in what is called the “East Wolf Management Zone” areas of known wolf activity are designated and monitored in order to manage and predict problematic interactions between wolves and livestock, and by extension humans, while also providing useful information about the preferred habitat for wolves. However, recently some significant protections for wolves were removed from the plan including the requirement for non-lethal conflict deterrence from private citizens and further leniency for hunting (Oregon Wild, 2019). Since this move there has been a 15% increase in annual growth in 2019 and a 46% decrease in predation on livestock from wolves, however, this is relatively consistent with the growth trend seen since their recent reintroduction so it is unclear if it has anything to do with the recent adjustments. (ODFW Annual Reports, 2020). So in spite of this recent success, it is too early to delist wolves, as the long term impact of this deregulation is still unclear, especially considering that the key threat to wolf habitat is human perturbation and encroachment, which deregulation could encourage over time. More data is needed to ensure that deregulation would destabilize wolf habitat.
Jaclyn Daniel: Question 3: What are the primary threats to the species?
Wolves are apex predators, so they typically are not hunted by many animals. As of now, one of the biggest threats to wolves in Oregon would be humans, “By the 19th and 20th centuries, intensive predator control programs were underway, and wolves were extirpated from most states by the early 1900s. The last gray wolf in Oregon was shot and killed in 1946” (Oregon Wild, 2019). Now, wolves are just coming back to Oregon, but the threats still remain. Humans are affected by wolves in a few different ways. Depredation happens to livestock around Oregon. Depredation is when a wolf kills domesticated animals. They affect people’s farm animals, and this can cost ranchers a lot of money if their animals (like cows) are being eaten. ODFW states that “16 Oregon wolves have been killed by ODFW or authorized agents in response to chronic depredations of livestock between September 2009 and December 2018” (ODFW, 2020). Wolves also affect how people hunt, they eat elk and deer, which are commonly hunted in Oregon by people for food. It is important to acknowledge that some wolves may be killed by poachers. Poachers are people who illegally hunt animals, their reasons can vary from eating the animal to only wanting the pelt of the wolf, or farmers wanting to protect their livestock.
Wolves are also threatened by the lack of wilderness. From expanding cities, logging, farming, and new roadways, we are negatively affecting their habitat. This means that wolves are more likely to affect us because they have nowhere else to go. The more wolves affect our livestock and get close to our homes, the more people intervene. It is a bad cycle that greatly affects the wolf population. Humans pose a great threat to the wolf population in Oregon, so it is up to us to decide if we want to continue the path we are on and prevent the wolf population from flourishing, or find ways to help them thrive in Oregon.
Madison Bauck Question 4: What are the options for recovery?
The options of recovery for wolves are limited, due to the scarcity of resources to protect them, as well as the struggles with farmers and ranchers in Oregon. The recovery process of wolves began in the 1980s when wolves were reintroduced to three areas that served as the best location to promote wolf populations recovery: the northern Rocky Mountains, the western Great Lakes region, and the Mexican gray wolf recovery area in the southwestern U.S. (Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2020). The reintroduction of wolves to these areas proved to be extremely beneficial to the overall recovery process of these species. By 2009, gray wolves had established themselves in eastern Oregon, and reports indicate that Oregon wolves have migrated further west in the state, steadily increasing pack sizes. Nevertheless, there are still factors that are affecting the wolves’ ability to recover to normal population numbers. One of the biggest is lack of habitat, as we continue to turn more and more of our wildlife areas into commercial developments, stripping these animals of crucial land and the resources that were previously there. Additionally, ranchers in Oregon are at risk of losing their livestock, and thus their livelihood to wolves. Because of this, many wolves are killed in an attempt to preserve livestock animals. In order to truly allow this species to recover, we need federally protected land that gives wolves the proper habitat and environment required to thrive. We also need to decide what is of more importance: recovering our wolf population or protecting our ranchers’ livestock from depredation. Otherwise, we would need a system put in place that provides funding to ranchers who have lost livestock due to wolves, in an attempt to offset the costs of depredation by wolves. Otherwise, the biggest conservation and recovery options have proven to be the reintroduction of wolves to locations whose environments best promote the recovery of these species.
Leah Swanson Question 5: What is the Outlook for Recovery?
2019 was a good year for wolves showing promising signs for their recovery. As stated earlier, the wolves population growth had shown a 15% increase in annual growth in 2019 which is a good sign for future growth. There was also shown to be a 46% decrease in predation on livestock from wolves (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2020). This could signify an end to conflict between ranchers and wolves. The main advocates against the protection of wolves have been farmers who wish to protect their livestock, if this is no longer a problem, the wolves have a better chance of recovery. Furthermore, 2019 was the first year since 2014 that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife did not kill any wolves (Oregon Wild, 2020). This furthers the notion that the conflict between ranchers and wolves is lessening. Though the recovery seems to be going well, there are still some challenges that the wolves face. In 2019 there were seven confirmed wolf deaths with five of those being due to vehicles (Oregon Wild, 2020). This is an alarming amount that signifies the need for safe wildlife crossing zones on roads. There has also been slow growth of wolf populations in Western Oregon, only growing by two wolves (Oregon Wild, 2020).
The outlook for recovery appears to be good for wolves in Oregon. However, one needs to be careful as the wolves could decline due to decreased habitat or an increase in conflict with ranchers. Also, the wolf population is fragile with the threat of annual growth plateauing or declining as seen in previous years. One good year does not negate the fears of future bad years.
Leah Swanson and Daniel Spence Question 6 what is the evidence to support or to oppose species listing (from peer-reviewed literature)?
The wolves in Oregon appear to have been on an upper wards trajectory towards recovery. However, some peer-reviewed sources have concerns about this delisting. It is still clear that human attitudes towards wolves have not changed as much as the wolves need. There is still a major conflict between livestock owners and wolves. It was found that there was an ever-increasing support for the control of wolves in Oregon to lessen damage to livestock (Bruskotter, 2010). But one article is hopeful stating that “it is feasible to implement a wolf management plan that would appease both wolf lovers and ranchers” (Anderson, 2013). This would be a challenging task that would require a team of specialists to implement.
However, creating a specialized plan may not be in the works for the wolves in Oregon. It is feared that this delisting holds more of a political reason rather than scientific reason (Cohn, 2011). If the wolves are managed better, the government can secure the votes from the ranchers. This idea could bring trouble for other endangered predators as they pose a risk to elected officials.
Shifting more towards the ecological factors that may be for or against delisting, the wolves are not close to their original population size. It has been declared that the population has recovered to less than 1 percent of its original size (Bergstrom, 2009). Though the wolves have recovered slightly it is not close to maintainable recovery. The wolves are still at risk for a relapse. The ecosystem recovery is also begun but cannot be sustained at the moment (Bergstrom, 2009). The first steps of recovery have begun but the species will require monitoring to ensure that they continue on this path.
As previously stated, the population of wolves has demonstrated a 15% increase in annual growth in 2019 and a 46% decrease in predation on livestock from wolves (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2020). Though this is only recent data which describes a short-term trend, it is fair to say that we’re headed in the right direction. For all these reasons, we are supporting the species listing. We are proposing additional monitoring for the wolves and improved habitat connectivity or safe wildlife crossing zones on roads. As we’ve learned in class, it is much more difficult for a small population to recover from a high death rate than it is for a stable or large population. Therefore, by performing actions that would lower the death rate and preventing unintentional vehicular accidents, the population would have more reproductively viable individuals, thus increasing the population size. (ODFW, 2020)
Anderson M. (2013.) ‘Federal Delisting of the Gray Wolf: An Oregon Perspective on the Future of Gray Wolf Recovery under State Endangered Species Acts’, Vermont Journal of Environmental Law. Retrieved from http://vjel.vermontlaw.edu/files/2013/06/Federal-Delisting-of-the-Gray-Wolf.pdf Accessed 10/28/20.
Bergstrom, Bradley J., et al. “The northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf is not yet recovered.” BioScience, vol. 59, no. 11, 2009, p. 991+. Gale Academic OneFile. Retrieved from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A215787172/AONE?u=s8405248&sid=AONE&xid=52d067ba. Accessed 10/28/20.
Burskotter, Jeremy T., et al. “Are gray wolves endangered in the northern Rocky Mountains? A role for social science in listing determinations.” BioScience, vol. 60, no. 11, 2010, p. 941+. Gale Academic OneFile. Retrieved from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A244888026/AONE?u=s8405248&sid=AONE&xid=f52309fc. Accessed 10/28/20.
International Wolf Center. (2017.) Oregon at a Glance. Retrieved from https://wolf.org/wow/united-states/oregon/ Accessed 10/27/20.
Jeffrey P. Cohn, Wildlife Groups Opposing Congressional Delisting of Gray Wolf, BioScience, Volume 61, Issue 8, August 2011, Page 648, https://doi.org/10.1525/bio.2011.61.8.17 Accessed 10/28/20.
ODFW. (2020.) Frequently Asked Questions About Wolves In Oregon. Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Retrieved from https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wolves/faq.asp Accessed 10/24/20.
ODFW. (2020.) Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management: 2019 Annual Report. Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Retrieved from https://www.dfw.state.or.us/Wolves/annual_reports.asp Accessed 10/27/20.
ODFW. (2020.) Wolves in Oregon. Oregon Department of Fisheries and. Wildlife. Retrieved from https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wolves/ Accessed 10/28/20
OFWO. (2018.) Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office: Gray Wolf. US Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved from https://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/articles.cfm?id=149489434 Accessed 10/28/20
Oregon Wild. (2019.) April Wildlife Update: Wolf Recovery Continues. Retrieved from https://oregonwild.org/about/blog/wolf-recovery-continues. Accessed 10/27/20.
Oregon Wild. (2019.) Grey Wolf. Retrieved from https://oregonwild.org/wildlife/gray-wolf Accessed 10/24/20.
Oregon Wild. (2019.) Wolves Come Home. Retrieved from https://oregonwild.org/wildlife/wolves-come-home-oregon Accessed 10/27/20.
Weiss A. (2020.) Oregon’s Wolf Population Grows to 22 Packs, 158 Animals. Center for Biological Diversity. Retrieved from https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/oregons-wolf-population-grows-to-22-packs-158-animals-2020-0415/#:~:text=Oregon’s%20Wolf%20Population%20Grows%20to,Animals%20%2D%20Center%20for%20Biological%20Diversity&text=PORTLAND%2C%20Ore.,Department%20of%20Fish%20and%20Wildlife. Accessed 10/27/20.