Wolves Are Making a Major Comeback in Oregon's Cascade Mountains

A new family of wolves has been spotted in Oregon's Cascade Mountains, according to state wildlife officials.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) reported on Monday that biologists from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS)—whose reservation includes portions of Jefferson and Wasco counties—photographed the new family, which consists of two adults and two pups, using a trail camera back in August.

The DFW has now designated the Warm Springs reservation as a new Area of Known Wolf Activity (AKWA). An area can be classified as an AKWA when wolves become established there, meaning that the location is used repeatedly over time by the same wolves and not simply wolves that pass through the area.

CTWS biologists first spotted two wolves in the area in December, 2021 but there was no further sign for some time until the trail camera recorded two pups in August, indicating that the animals are still living in the area.

Two wolves in the Rocky Mountains
Stock image: Two wolves in a mountainous area. A new family of wolves has been spotted in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, according to state wildlife officials. iStock

If the group still has at least four wolves at the end of 2022, the DFW will name it the Warm Springs Pack. The new group is the third to be documented in the northern Cascades. Wolves in the Cascade Mountains are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

"I'm so grateful this new family is making its home in a part of Oregon where wolves are still protected under federal law," Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

"Illegal wolf killing is rampant in Oregon, so these animals need every possible safeguard. I hope this will be an exciting new chapter in the story of wolf recovery in the state, which is seeing wolves dispersing into territory where they haven't lived for decades," Weiss said.

Gray wolves once roamed across much of North America with their population reaching tens of thousands at its peak. But U.S.-government-backed extermination programs in the 19th and early 20th centuries—set up in response to attacks on cattle—led to a dramatic decline in their numbers.

By 1940, wolves had been almost wiped out in the lower 48 states, including in Oregon. But the animals were included in the 1973 Endangered Species Act before reintroduction efforts beginning in the 90s—focused on areas such as Yellowstone Park and Idaho—helped to boost their numbers. There are now thought to be several thousand wolves living in the lower 48 states.

In 1999, wolves from Idaho began moving into Oregon, and officials confirmed the first pack in the state in 2008.

According to the DFW's Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management 2021 Annual Report, the wolf population in the state at the end of 2021 was 175—an increase of two over the 2020 minimum known number of 173. The actual number of wolves is likely higher though, officials said.

"The wolf count did not increase as much over the past year as in previous years, and a higher number of mortalities that included the loss of breeding adults certainly played a role," said DFW wolf biologist Roblyn Brown in a statement.

For example, an entire pack was killed by poisoning in northeastern Oregon where no federal protections for the animals exist.

Despite the higher number of mortalities in 2021, "we are confident in the continued health of the state's wolf population as they expand in distribution across the state and show a strong upward population trend," Brown said. Wolves expanded into four new areas of activity in the state in 2021.