Are more wolves roaming Sisters?
Last updated 4/18/2023 at 6:16pm
Claims of wolf packs 13 and 14 strong are circulating in Sisters Country. The Deschutes County Farm Bureau lit up Facebook with its post on March 24 that has garnered over 450 comments and more than 800 shares. Similar social media posts on the Next Door app are being widely shared.
In boldface type the post says: "Heads up. A pack of 14 wolves has been spotted in Lower Bridge. They've already killed livestock." The Farm Bureau post has generated grainy user photos. In any that are clear, the photos show two wolves.
Many people believe that there is increasing wolf activity in Sisters Country - but hard evidence is hard to come by.
The livestock reference is to two 600-pound steers owned by "Tall" Samuels, who ranches at Lower Bridge Road and Holmes Road. Tall who stands 6 foot 4 inches, has had the nickname all his life. He hails from Georgia and still carries a pronounced southern accent. He has 600 cross-breed cattle in his herd, and he told The Nugget he saw a wolf last year in the area.
Samuels confirmed to The Nugget that he experienced kills, but he is hesitant to blame them on wolves.
"It's probably not coyotes, and wouldn't be a cougar," he said in describing the incident.
Coyotes, even in packs, as a rule do not take on the much larger cows, finding sheep and fowl easier prey. In a 2017 USDA survey of the 112 million cows, only 13,000 were lost to cougars.
Cougars have a distinct kill pattern that was not present in Samuels' loss. Cougars are common in the area, as are coyotes. The Nugget visited with several property owners on Lower Bridge Road, and none reported seeing any wolves, including Alpaca Country Estates, who have close to 1,000 alpacas that would be easy prey.
"Even fenced as we are, coyotes and wolves could get under them," said Nancy Iver, co-owner with husband, Art.
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) Wildlife Technician Landon Hardt said that they have reports of more sightings, but when they investigate they find no evidence.
"It could be the Metolius pair," Hardt said.
On April 19, 2022, a new AKWA (Area of Known Wolf Activity) was designated in the Metolius wildlife management unit. Since August of 2021, there have been public reports of two wolves. ODFW documented that the wolf use appeared to be resident, prompting the designation of the AKWA. These two wolves were counted for the 2021 annual wildlife census.
Hardt conceded that there could be more than two, but couldn't imagine a pack anywhere near sizes mentioned on social media.
"There would be lot of evidence with a pack that size," Hardt said, adding: "Possibly another wolf, two at most, are trying to pack up with the known pair."
The amount of anecdotal evidence suggests that there are more than two wolves, in Sisters Country - but again, it's hard to pin down.
Sisters Ranger District workers have seen prints of a single wolf, but none have seen the actual animal.
The same with Oregon State Police Fish & Wildlife troopers, who regularly patrol areas of reported sightings. Person after person The Nugget interviewed tell of somebody else who has photos, but the photos have not materialized.
Neither the Sisters Substation nor the Bend headquarters of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office report any of their deputies seeing wolves in their extensive patrolling.
Getting folks on the record who purport seeing wolves has been as elusive as the wolves themselves.
Samuels is teaming up with ODFW and the Forest Service in hopes of being able to determine with certainty the cause of his livestock loss. He's strategizing tagging, and installing cameras to gather evidence.
"We can coexist with predators," Samuels said. "There's a natural balance in these things, and we just need to figure it out."
Susan Prince of the 100-member Wolf Welcome Committee, based in Sisters Country, has heard the reports of increased sightings. Her group has not seen any evidence of larger packs. When asked what the Committee's position was on wolf predation she said, "We hope ranchers will learn the many nonlethal tools to protect their stock."
Prince reiterated that gray wolves are protected by law throughout Oregon. In Central Oregon wolves are on the federal Endangered Species List. It is unlawful to shoot wolves or to harm them in any way, except in defense of human life or in certain chronic livestock depredation situations.
Ranchers generally are entitled to compensation for loss of stock by predation. Samuels, however, won't get any, even if he could prove that the loss was from wolves, as the statute for compensation payments require that a Wolf Committee be in place in the county of loss (see sidebar, below left).
Many of the Facebook posts express skepticism about the numbers being suggested. Others talk about the growing elk herds in Cloverdale, suggesting that they have been pushed out of their Lower Bridge and Alder Springs habitat as wolves have appeared. Most commenters seem to agree that there are more wolves in Sisters Country - only debating their number and threat, and their place on the land.