When the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission makes future wolf management decisions, deer and elk populations will be key factors.
On Nov. 9, the ODFW voted to remove wolves from the state’s endangered species list, and biologists expect the population to continue growing, according to the department.
According to Mark Henjum, a retired wildlife biologist, healthy populations of deer and elk acts as a buffer between the increase of predators in the state and livestock herds. Henjum was the original coordinator for the ODFW’s wolf program.
“This buffer thing is one of the main reasons we haven’t seen so high a rate of loss of livestock,” Henjum said. “I think down the road, trying to maintain the ungulate populations is something that‘s going to be more important as we move on.”
The ODFW says that the state has up to 30,000 black bears, more than 6,000 cougars, and at least 82 wolves.
Henjum and other biologists say that drops in deer and elk prey could lead to more predator attacks on livestock. Wolves prefer elk, according to biologists, but lower prey numbers lead to livestock attacks.
According the the ODFW, management of the wolf population in relation to its wild prey base is the next step. Currently, Oregon’s cougar management plan allows for targeted killings in response to livestock and human safety concerns.