SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- A record number of wolves are roaming the forests and fields of Oregon 20 years after the species returned to the state.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported Monday that the number of known wolves in Oregon at the end of 2018 was 137, a 10% increase over the previous year. There are likely even more wolves because not all individuals or packs are located during the winter count.
Sixteen packs -- defined as four or more wolves traveling together in winter - were documented during the count, up from 12 packs in 2017.
“For the second year in a row, resident wolves were documented in a new area of the state,” the 2018 Oregon Wolf Conservation and management report said. “In late 2018, wolves were discovered in the central portion of the Oregon Cascades.”
Despite the territorial expansion, wolves still have a tentative toe-hold in all but the eastern part of the state. The objective of wolves maintaining four breeding pairs in central and western Oregon for three years had not been reached. In the east, the objective of seven breeding pairs was exceeded.
Meanwhile, several wolves crossed into California and Idaho last year.
The resurgence of the gray wolf in Oregon reflects a trend in the West.
- In Washington state, the number of gray wolves increased by four in 2018 to a minimum of 126, with one pack living for the first time west of the Cascade Range.
- In California, one pack has established itself, with the breeding male an offspring of a wolf that had wandered south from Oregon in 2011. A California judge recently upheld protection for gray wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act, rejecting a legal challenge from ranchers and farmers.
- The number of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico has increased to at least 131 -- the most since federal biologists began reintroducing them into the Southwest more than two decades ago.
In Oregon, wolves are more prevalent in the far eastern part of the state, where they are delisted under the Oregon List of Endangered Species but are protected as a special status game mammal. Wolves in central and western parts of the state continue to be federally listed as endangered species.
Last month, the U.S. Interior Department proposed lifting protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states. The proposal would give states the authority to hold wolf hunting and trapping seasons. Wildlife advocates have blasted the proposal.
Wolves received endangered species protections in 1975. Then, only 1,000 remained, only in northern Minnesota, after being almost exterminated in the Lower 48 states. Now, more than 5,000 wolves roam the contiguous U.S. The species returned to Oregon in 1999 when one wolf that had been re-introduced into Idaho walked across the state line.