By Courtney Sherwood
(Reuters) - A rare male gray wolf has been detected roaming an Oregon Indian reservation, state fish and game officials said on Monday, days after wildlife managers ordered a review that could lessen state protections for once-decimated populations of the species.
The animal, dubbed OR-25 for its satellite tracking-collar number, was born about two years ago into an Oregon pack but had been living in Washington state until recently, said Michelle Dennehy with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Detected by signals picked up from its radio collar, it is the third lone male identified in central Oregon since 2013, and wildlife officials say at least eight breeding pairs have also whelped pups in the state in recent years.
Gray wolves, native to Oregon but wiped out in the state by an eradication campaign during the early 20th century, first returned in 2008 and have now spread out to multiple parts of the Pacific Northwest state.
"This is a success story," state wolf coordinator Russ Morgan said in a statement. "Not very many years ago, we had no known wolves in Oregon. Now we not only have wolves, but the population is healthy and growing."
That rapid rebound triggered a state Fish and Wildlife Commission vote on Friday to develop two alternate options for easing state Endangered Species Act protections for the animals, either exclusively in central and eastern Oregon, where most wolves have turned up, or statewide.
Under either scenario, federal law would continue to restrict hunting of the wolves in western Oregon, Dennehy said.
While wolves throughout Oregon are protected by state law, they lost their federally protected status in eastern Oregon in 2011 when Congress lifted Endangered Species Act safeguards for various wolf populations in several states. Protections remained in place for any animals in the western two-thirds of the state.
The Oregon Cattlemen's Association has been pushing for lessened protections to allow its members to shoot wolves when livestock are threatened. Wolves killed at least 30 sheep and cows in Oregon last year, according to a state tally.
But it is unlikely any changes to state gray wolf protections will come before autumn, Dennehy said.