Within four or five years Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife northeast regional supervisor Craig Ely predicts that there will be a wolf pack established somewhere in Oregon.
The wolf prediction was part of a two-hour briefing given to the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners during its Sept. 15 meeting, that covered a long range of issues of mutual interest, ranging from chinook fisheries to Idaho Power dam relicensing and the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area management plan.
Joining Ely at the table facing commissioners Mike Hayward, Ben Boswell and Dan DeBoie were wildlife biologist Vic Coggins, fish biologist Brad Smith and Colleen Fagan, northeast regional hydro coordinator.
Following are a few of the topics discussed.
Wolves - Ely said there is no confirmed sightings of wolves in Oregon at this time and the state has no plans to reintroduce wolves here, but he expects Oregon will see wolves in the state in the next few years, migrated from Idaho. Three have already ventured into the northeast corner of the state (not Wallowa County), two were killed and one shipped back to Idaho. Ely said that even if the success of reestablishing wolves in other states results in a de-listing of wolves from the endangered species act to the threatened list, Oregon would still have it listed as endangered and under current law wildlife managers must adopt a management plan for wolves.
Big horn sheep: "There's a tremendous amount going on with the big horn project in Hells Canyon," said Vic Coggins. He said that through following radio collared sheep, it appears the Imnaha sheep are doing real well, but there's some pneumonia reported in the Lostine band and the Lower Imnaha sheep which are doing fairly well.
Coggins said that big news in the field includes progress in determining the origins of pastorello disease episodes in research being done at the University of San Diego, which is important in eventually developing effective vaccines. Also an endowed chair in big horn diseases has been established at the Washington State University veterinary school.
"They have the perfect lab with Hells Canyon sitting right here," he said.
Informed that a more complete presentation is available on big horn sheep here, commissioner Hayward suggested that it be scheduled at a public gathering so that a wider audience might be invited.
Mountain goats: Coggins reported that a recent transplant of goats at P.O. Mountain has been on the move, with some found with the Hat Point band, consisting of some 40 goats. "It's a good spot as far as tourists are concerned," he said. The latest annual count in the Wallowas tallied over 200 goats, with healthy concentrations at Cusik Mountain, the Divide, Goat Mountain, Goat Creek and Bear Creek.
Spring chinook: Smith reported that there has been a "fishery" - fishing season - on spring chinook in the Imnaha for the past three years, with 300 hatchery fish taken in 2001, 152 in 2002 and 125 in 2003. He said setting up the fisheries has been a time-consuming process. Objecting to a straightforward Section 10 permit based on run projections, the Nez Perce Tribe has shared its allotment, which is 10 percent of the total return. Smith said as many as 6,000 spring chinook have been returning annually to the Imnaha. He said the fisheries have been running from around the first part of June to July 1.
"The last three years have been good returns across the board in the Columbia Basin," said Smith. The question of delisting the spring run from the endangered species list was raised by the commissioners. "We look forward to the day to get the chinook delisted, that should be our goal," said commissioner Boswell. Ely expressed agreement with that objective.
Idaho Power Dam relicensing - The final relicensing application was made in July of this year, and there is 60 days allowed for requests for additional studies involving mitigation issues from Idaho Power. A scoping document is due out in November, when a series of public meetings will be scheduled.
A committee is compiling a list of key issues which represents the state of Oregon's concerns including: nine tons of sediment at Brownlee Reservoir and its impact on fisheries, riparian areas and fall chinook run; more efforts to improve water quality; a report on the feasibility of andamous fish passage; studies on mitigation on sturgeon and lamprey species; more extensive bypass flow study; controlling noxious weeds; bald eagle nesting habitat;
Boswell asked how Wallowa County could have more of a participatory role in getting its concerns, such as telecommunication access, addressed in the state document, rather than as just another member of the public in public comment. "We're the other government," he said. "Our citizens expect us to be everywhere."
Hayward added that while the state and county may share some concerns, the Idaho Power dam provides a substantial part of Wallowa County's tax base and its continued operation is vitally important to the county.