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Due to limited reports of wolf activity, Crook County not yet deemed a 'known area of wolf activity'

PHOTO COURTESY OF ODFW - Wolf management varies by state location and federal restrictionsThe prevailing belief among local livestock producers and Crook County Wolf Committee leadership is that wolves are likely in the area.

But due to a lack of data, which is attributed to insufficient reporting of wolf sightings, the county is still not listed by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) as a "area of known wolf activity."

These details and others regarding wolves in Crook County and throughout Oregon were discussed during an event held earlier this month. According to Crook County Wolf Committee Chair Ellie Gage, the Crook County Soil and Water Conservation District was hosting its 50th anniversary celebration barbecue and organizers decided to center the event around wolves.

"We decided, in conjunction with that celebration we would invite some speakers from around the state to talk about wolves," Gage explained. "We figured it was a topic that would interest most of the folks attending the barbecue anyway."

Livestock producers throughout the state have wrestled for the past several years with the reintroduction of wolves, which were federally listed throughout Oregon as an endangered species. Wolf populations have grown and migrated during the past decade, prompting the federal government to delist them in the eastern portion of the state. The hope is that their additional presence in the Central Oregon area will encourage a similar delisting for that region.

County officials have meanwhile held several public events on wolves and what to do when they are spotted in Crook County. In addition to reporting the sightings, the local wolf committee has mounted a bone pile removal campaign to discourage wolves from wandering onto ranches and threatening livestock.

The guest speakers for the event held this month were funded for a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant intended to support education and outreach for Crook County livestock producers.

"We intentionally chose three people who would give us three different perspectives, just based upon their experiences," Gage said.

One speaker was John Williams, a retired OSU Extension agent from Wallowa County who also has served as the co-chair for the wolf committee for the Oregon Cattleman's Association. Another speaker, Jon Belozer, is a wildlife specialist who specifically specializes in trapping, tracking and removing problem predators.

"He has been involved on the fringes of wolf management work," Gage noted. "He has a great relationship with a lot of livestock producers because he has worked with them for a long time. I think his perspective is really valuable."

The third speaker was Jamie Bowles, an ODFW wolf biologist in the Central Oregon area. Gage said she is the most familiar with the Oregon Wolf Plan and wolf activity in the local region.

"I think the general consensus from all three speakers was the importance that we are communicating as a community between neighbors and also with the management agencies," Gage said. "The goal is for management agencies to be able to document that there is a sufficient wolf population in the area, that the wolves can be delisted and managed at the state level, and that would put all management options on the table."

So far, that is not the case. Gage echoed the sentiments of event attendees who expressed frustration that wolves are likely in Crook County, but the area is not known as an area of known wolf activity.

"I am sure they're here," she said. "I think that we don't have good information on how many there are and their locations," she said.

Gage went on to say that the current data has created a "messy" wolf management situation in Oregon. She points out that the western portion of the state is in Phase 1 of the Oregon Wolf Plan and wolves are still federally listed. In the easternmost portions of the state, wolves are federally delisted. However, locations on the east side of the Cascades, but west of where they are delisted, fall under different classifications. Everything west of Highway 97 north of Bend and west of Highway 395 south of Bend are currently in Phase 3 of the Wolf Plan, but wolves are federally listed.

"These decisions are made based on known wolf populations," she said.

An apparent reluctance to report wolf activity could be attributed to the lacking data for Crook County. Gage heard several people say during the recent event that they have been hesitant to report concerns about wolves or wolf activity "because they didn't want to get in trouble."

"They weren't sure what would happen if they did contact ODFW. That came up multiple times."

But Bowles pushed back against that concern, telling the audience that there is no risk to producers for reporting wolf activity. In fact, she stressed that communicating wolf activity to ODFW is an important step to take so that wolves can be delisted locally and managed appropriately.

Going forward, Gage is encouraging producers and other residents to familiarize themselves with Western Oregon Landowners Alliance, a nonprofit based in Santa Fe, New Mexico that she said is "doing really important work on-the-ground in the western states."

"They are working to advance some interim practice standards through the Natural Resources Conservation Service that will provide durable funding for livestock producers who are affected by wolf-livestock conflicts."

Another website she recommends is Working Wild Challenge, particularly the portion that addresses policy recommendations for the "four Cs" for conflict resolution — conflict prevention, lethal control, compensation and collaboration.

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