For the first time in nearly 70 years, at least two wolf pups have been born to an endangered pack in the Northern Cascades, Oregon since the species were pushed to the brink of extinction along the western US.
The pups are part of the White River Pack and were spotted August 10 using a remote camera on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, according to a statement released by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). It’s the first known reproduction by wolves in this region since the animals started returning to the state in the early 2000s.
“Today, we let out a huge howl knowing that a wolf pack is rightly back on the landscape around iconic Mount Hood after the species was systematically exterminated decades ago,” said Josh Laughlin, Executive Director of Cascadia Wildlands in a statement emailed to IFLScience.
“The news is also a stark reminder that we need to ensure strong state and federal protections remain in place for recovering wolves so they can continue to re-occupy their historic territories across Oregon.”
Gray wolves were once one of the world’s most widely distributed mammal but have been reduced by about one-third globally primarily due to livestock depredation and attacks on humans, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. As humans moved westward in the US throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the wolf was hunted to the brink of extinction across parts of the continent in part due to a government-sanctioned eradication to kill off the “beast of destruction." By the 1970s, wolves presented just 1 percent of their historic range – just 300 were left in the lower 48 states hugging along the shorelines of the great lakes.
In 1974, the US government had a change of heart when the gray wolf became one of the first animals listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Today, more than 5,000 wolves live in the contiguous US while Alaska is home to an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 wolves. In 2011, the federal government delisted wolves across several western states and have since opened special hunting seasons to manage populations with the argument of helping drive awareness and funding for future conservation efforts.
Today, wolves in parts of Oregon are still federally protected by the ESA managed by a coalition of federal, state, and tribal agencies. However, earlier this year the Trump administration announced plans to reclassify wolves still under federal protections, which would remove key protections and make it easier to kill some recovering species. ODFW last counted a minimum of 124 wolves across 12 packs at the end of last year.
[H/T: The Oregonian]