Expert says wolf presence locally should be no surprise

By John L. Braese

The Enterprise

VALE – An Oregon wolf expert said Malheur County has habitat that would be attractive to wolves.

“If there is food available, it would not surprise me wolves are there,” said John Williams, an extension agent with the Wallowa office of Oregon State University.

Williams said an interview last week that he wasn’t aware of the recent cattle deaths near Beulah Reservoir. Six cattle deaths have been confirmed as wolf related by the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office, but classified as “other” by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Williams is familiar with Malheur County, having made several presentations to local groups such as the Malheur Watershed Council.

For eight years Williams has researched the relationship between cattle and wolves in Oregon and Idaho. In 2010, Williams authored a study maintaining the presence of wolves in an area costs a rancher $261 per head. This includes $55 for weight loss and $67 for lower pregnancy rates.

Williams is an associate professor at Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and has been an extension agent for nearly 30 years. He has lived and ranched in Wallowa County for 23 years.

Williams said with that the vast area wolves cover and the closeness of Malheur County to known wolf populations in Baker County, reports of the animal in the local area make sense.

“Research shows a wolf normally travels 11 miles a day and can travel up to 30 miles in a day,” Williams said. “We have evidence of a wolf in Morrow County that traveled 30 miles in six hours.”

Williams said wolves follow food.

“If you have deer or elk, you will have wolves,” he said.

The common belief that wolves need timbered areas isn’t true, according to Williams. He said that in the Wallowa area, wolves are commonly found in a 150,000-square-mile area of prairie.

If Malheur County does indeed have wolves, they likely come from an act known as dispersal, said Williams. As pups age, they are forced out of a pack and roam looking for mates to start a new pack.

“Wolves are very generous when it comes to habitat. They do need food, but are very tolerant of people,” Williams said.

Williams said the wolf is a smart animal, adapting to conditions with a sharp learning curve.

“Unlike a bear or cougar that a rancher takes care of and that is it, wolves may be in your backyard today and be 50 miles away by the next day,” said Williams. “They can move in the background and not be noticed. Many times, you will not find a lot of evidence until winter comes on.”

Williams said tracks would be seen more frequently in winter snow compared to the hard ground in the summer.

With the range, Williams said the use of trail cameras is “hit and miss.”

“In the four years I have used trail cams, I have caught a wolf on camera only three times using 12 cameras,” Williams said. “They are one tool to use, but people should not expect they are the cure-all to verifying