By Jayson Jacoby
For the first time in almost five years, state officials have confirmed that multiple wolves have been roaming in Baker County.
Russ Morgan, the wolf coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said this morning he believes five wolves have spent at least the past month or so in the Medical Springs area, near the border between Baker and Union counties about 22 miles northeast of Baker City.
It's possible the pack consists of four wolves - gauging numbers based solely on tracks in the snow isn't precise - but Morgan said he believes there are five wolves in the group.
What's not clear, since ODFW hasn't actually seen the wolves themselves, is whether the pack includes a breeding pair, Morgan said.
Nor do biologists know the ages of the wolves, he said.
"Like teenage boys, wolves' feet get big fast," Morgan said.
The appearance of the wolves - a landowner first reported tracks in late December - is a mystery, he said.
"This is a first for us, when all of the sudden five wolves just show up," Morgan said.
The two more likely scenarios are these, Morgan said:
andbull; The wolves moved to the area as a pack, and there is a breeding pair.
andbull; The wolves broke away from an existing pack, and they might return to that pack.
If the latter scenario is accurate, the most likely source of the wolves is the Minam Pack, which ranges mainly in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Morgan said he collected feces samples and sent them to a lab for DNA testing.
There's about a 50 percent chance, Morgan said, that the lab will extract enough DNA to compare to known genetics from other Oregon wolves and, potentially, confirm that the wolves came from an existing pack.
Morgan said his goal now is to capture one or more of the wolves and fit them with radio tracking collars.
Although at least one wolf - the famous OR-7, which continued on to California - has passed through Baker County over the past five years, there hasn't been a confirmed record of wolves in the county since 2009.
That year a pair of wolves killed two dozen sheep in Keating Valley.
Federal agents shot and killed those two wolves in September 2009.
In September 2012, ODFW confirmed that wolves from the Imnaha pack killed a cow belonging to the Pine Valley Ranch in eastern Baker County.