News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Recreating with wolves in Central Oregon's forests

Wolves, once native to Central Oregon, were eradicated from the State by the mid-1940s. However, over the past 15 years, wolves have steadily migrated from neighboring states to reestablish themselves in Oregon, including in the Deschutes National Forest and surrounding areas.

The chances of encountering a wild wolf are extremely low. Wolves are generally shy and secretive animals, and there are significantly more bears and cougars in Oregon than wolves. However, just like being prepared for any other possibility while you recreate in our local forests, it is good to be prepared for a wolf encounter.

Wolves are generally not a threat to humans unless they become habituated to people, usually from being fed. In North America, it is rare for wolves to attack humans. Statistically, wolves pose the least danger to people as compared to other large carnivores like bears and cougars. There have not been any documented human deaths caused by wolves in the lower-48 states in the last hundred years. However, like coyotes and bears, wolves can learn to associate campgrounds, picnic areas, and roads with food, which can cause them to become aggressive.

Seeing a wolf can be an incredible experience. Nevertheless, like all wild animals, wolves can be dangerous, so it is essential to keep your distance. Even though the chance of a wolf attack is remote and far less of a risk than many other things found in our forests, while recreating there are mistakes you could make which increase risks. Just like if you are in a lightning storm it is advisable not to stand on top of a hill with a metal rod in hand, when you are in an area where wolves might be present, there are recommendations for making a negative encounter even less likely.

• Do not feed wolves or their pups. Feeding a wolf does not help us or the animals, but it likely ultimately harms the wolves and could lead to a negative encounter with a human. Wolves habituated to humans through feeding are in a no-win situation, increasing problems for both people and wolves. For example, you do not want to encourage wolves to seek food from campsites or vehicles.

• Do not attract wolves (or any other predators) by leaving out food. While wolves are highly unlikely to approach a camp, it is best not to have unsealed meat and dead animals around you, especially at night. Just like you already should be doing to prevent an encounter with the bears of our local forests, consider taking reasonable precautions, like securing food in containers and storing both the food and garbage away from your tent and out of reach. Make sure you properly close any trash cans.

• Just like human parents will protect their kids when threatened, wolves do not like people being around their pups. Wolves give birth to their pups in mid-April and raise their young during the summer. If you encounter a wolf pup or a den, you should pay attention to your surroundings and carefully leave the area using the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) guidelines below.

• Stay together and keep kids within sight of adults. Be extra careful if you are out at night, dawn, or dusk. Try not to go out alone; there are risks to being alone in the forest besides wolves.

If you follow all the instructions carefully (especially about paying attention to the wind direction), bear mace may be appropriate to carry.

If you see fresh signs of wolves, like their scat or prints, or what may be a freshly killed animal with evidence of wolves, move away from the area and then report the signs to the ODFW at ODFW's website has information about how to identify a wolf or wolf sign. They also have a fun quiz to take, which helps distinguish between wolves and coyotes.

It helps if you take a photo of the wolf sign (but avoid handling dead animals or scat) with something for size comparison, like a dollar bill, or use your phone's measurement feature (Apple has a free measure app in utilities). You can upload two photos with your report to ODFW. It also helps if you note your location using GPS coordinates, a navigation app, or the compass app on most phones, or noting any major roads, trails, or landmarks. Reports to ODFW help the wolf biologists track wolf activity.

If you do encounter a wolf, here are ODFW's tips on what to do:

Make sure the wolf knows that you are there and that you are human. The wolf may not have smelled or seen you if the wind is carrying your scent away from the wolf or if you have been sitting or standing motionless. Simply moving, raising your arms, and talking will alert the wolf and usually cause it to move away quickly.

In the very unlikely event that a wolf threatens you, here is what to do:

• Stay calm

• Raise your voice and speak firmly

• Back away slowly while facing the animal. Do not turn and run

• Leave the wolf a way to escape

• Pick up small children without bending down

• Use air horns or other noisemakers

• Use bear spray or firearms if necessary (fire a shot into the ground safely).

In the very unlikely event that you are attacked by a wolf, fight back. Try to remain standing and use rocks, sticks, tools, camping gear, and your hands to fend off the attack.

On ODFW's website, there is a helpful video giving more details on wolf encounters:

There are special and important considerations for those of you who take your dogs out with you. Wolves might see your dog as a territory threat, so here are ODFW's tips for dog owners:

• Keep dogs within view.

• Place a bell or a beeping collar on wider ranging dogs.

• Talk loudly to the dog or other people with you or use whistles.

• Control the dog so that it stays close to you and wolves associate it with a human.

Place the dog on a leash if you have reason to believe wolves are active in the area you are recreating.

Although the chances of having a negative encounter with a wolf are just barely above zero, it's good to be prepared.

The reporter's family spends a lot of time in more remote areas of known wolf activity, so they take precautions, including staying close together, always having a charged cell phone, carrying safety whistles within easy reach, and adults carrying bear mace and a sturdy hiking pole. They also ensure they are aware of their surroundings by looking for signs of a predator in the area.

Recreating in wolf country can be fun and awesome; seeing a wolf can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So, although there are precautions to take, an encounter will likely be a positive experience. The reporter's family has spent many hours in areas where wolves are and has yet to see one. However, that doesn't mean you won't, and it's good to be prepared.

Ander Rhoads is a Bend-La Pine Schools seventh-grade student. He wishes to thank the biologists who generously took the time to help him with this article.


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