Monitoring the Metolius wolves
Last updated 8/22/2023 at 9:48am
The pair of wolves known as the Metolius pair are presumed - but not confirmed - to be a male and female. 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. Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) documented that the wolf activity appeared to be resident, prompting the AKWA designation. These two wolves were counted for the 2021 annual wildlife census.
Last week The Nugget accompanied Aaron Bott, ODFW's regional wolf biologist, checking trail cameras in areas around Stevens Canyon and Garrison Butte. Some three dozen cameras are deployed throughout Sisters Country to aid in gauging wolf population and activity. Some private landowners also use cameras in assistance of managing their herds.
"Cameras give us a picture, but not the whole picture," Bott said. "It's quite possible that a wolf walks right past the tree on which the camera is set, but the other side of the tree, away from the lens. Or if a pack, the entire pack may not pass in front of the camera."
When activated by motion, the cameras collect 15 seconds of high-definition video.
On this outing, three cameras were inspected and their memory cards swapped out for fresh ones as well as performing a battery check. The first stop yielded a black bear in one clip and a mounted cowboy in another, herding a solo steer. No wolves.
The second camera was a jackpot, with clear, unmistakable footage of the Metolius pair. Bott knows these wolves well and to him, an expert, they are at once distinguishable. For 15 seconds they walked in tandem past the camera and down the Forest Service road.
Bott picked up their tracks about a hundred yards before the camera. First in the parade of tracks were deer, followed by elk, and finally by the wolves. Wolves dine almost entirely on elk. They will prey on deer and occasionally ranch livestock, but their preferred diet is elk.
The pair has exhibited male and female behavior and scat samples suggest both genders are represented, yet it's not a 100 percent certainty unless or until they are trapped and collared. One was trapped recently but escaped before Bott could get to the location.
"These are among the world's smartest and most adaptive animals," Bott said. "They will both know of the traps now and it's very unlikely they will fall for the trap again."
Collaring wolves is more for the public's benefit than for biologists, Bott explained.
"Producers (ranchers) feel more secure knowing wolves are collared, and wolf advocates like knowing where they are and that they are in good health," he said.
In fact wolves do not always stay in their pack throughout the day or week, so telling a rancher that part of the pack, the collared one(s), are miles away, doesn't mean the entire pack is.
Moreover, wolves cover up to 30-plus miles a day, so knowing where they were at 7 a.m. doesn't mean that's where they will be a few hours later.
While wolves are notoriously fierce predators, it is their skill, not their brawn, that enable them to take down prey often seven or eight or nine times their size. A wolf pack's ferocity and apparent brutality is really a defensive measure.
It is common for a wolf to be seriously injured by flailing hooves and slashing antlers. A well-placed kick can break a wolf's jaw, rendering it unable to feed itself. It is much safer to harass the prey and let it tire out before moving in close.
By all appearances the Metolius pair have been unsuccessful in producing offspring. They have had two years now in which mating could have occurred, and on this day any pups whelped this spring would be loping along behind the adults in sight of the trail camera.
Bott is not optimistic that the Metolius wolves will survive more than another year or two. Wolves have a very hard life, living on average only two to four years. Although, some live to be 10 or 12 - particularly in larger packs where other wolves can share the work.
One of these two is missing an eye, visible in night-time images caught by the trail cameras. For a pair, the work of hunting is exhausting. And winters can be harsh in Central Oregon.
Bott runs down every call to http://www.odfw.com/wolves or his office. Despite widely held beliefs that packs as large as 10 to 14 are roaming Sisters Country, ODFW is yet unable to find any conclusive evidence to support such reports.