The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife announced Thursday it will kill two wolves from the Harl Butte pack in Wallowa County to curb attacks on livestock, but will not eliminate the entire pack as requested by local ranchers.
The pack, which totaled as many as 10 wolves at the end of last year, is responsible for seven confirmed instances of preying on livestock over the last 13 months, killing three calves and injuring another four.
ODFW received a request July 28 from the Marr Flat Grazing Association to remove the entire pack, but will instead take a more incremental approach to address what the state defines as chronic livestock depredation.
“In this chronic situation, lethal control measures are warranted,” said Roblyn Brown, acting wolf coordinator for ODFW. “We will use incremental removal to give the remaining wolves the opportunity to change their behavior or move out of the area.”
The agency intends to kill two uncollared adult wolves sometime within the next two weeks by trapping or shooting, according to a press release.
ODFW last killed wolves in March 2016, when wildlife managers shot four members of the Imnaha pack, also in Wallowa County.
Oregon’s Wolf Management and Conservation Plan does allow for killing wolves as a tool to protect livestock when other means of non-lethal hazing have proven ineffective — things like hiring range riders and removing bone piles or other attractants.
In this case, ODFW claims ranchers did maintain a significant human presence in the area where wolves were preying on their cattle. Producers coordinated between themselves, employees, volunteers and a county-employed range rider to ensure a daily human presence in the area.
Some ranchers even spent nights near livestock and changed up their pasture rotation to avoid putting cattle in areas where wolves have previously been spotted. Sick or injured animals were moved quickly to avoid potentially luring wolves to the herd.
Still, ranchers hazed or chased away wolves near their livestock on seven different occasions in June and July. Cattle will continue to graze in the area on public land until October, and on private lands into November, according to ODFW.
“Based on the level of non-lethal measures already being used and the fact that wolves are likely to be in the presence of cattle in this area for several more months, there is a substantial risk that depredation will continue or escalate,” Brown said.
Wolves were removed from the state endangered species list at the end of 2015, but remain federally protected west of highways 395, 78 and 95. There are four criteria before ODFW will consider killing wolves in Eastern Oregon: if the agency confirms at least two attacks on livestock; if producers can show non-lethal deterrents have not been successful; if there is nothing else to attract wolves into the area; and if the requester has complied with laws under the wolf plan.
In the kill order signed Thursday by ODFW Director Curt Melcher, the agency was authorized to remove a portion of wolves in the Harl Butte pack because the situation satisfies those requirements and “is the only option expected to reduce or eliminate current chronic depredation.”
The decision was criticized by not only environmental groups, but cattlemen as well.
“As an organization, we are extremely disappointed that they are not taking out the entire pack with all the depredations that have occurred and all the work that has been done under the Oregon wolf plan,” said Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. “To not take the entire pack? This is code for our ranchers that cattle will continue to be killed.”
Todd Nash, a Wallowa County rancher, commissioner and chairman of the OCA wolf committee, echoed that disappointment.
“We have seen this happen before and we fully expect more cattle to be killed,” Nash said. “It’s a very unfortunate way to do business.”
Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands, chastised ODFW for its willingness to kill any wolves while the species is still recovering statewide.
“This kill order is wrong and simply another aimless gift to the commercial livestock industry already bloated on public subsidies,” Cady said. “The mission of the Department of Fish and Wildlife is to protect recovering native species, not to meaninglessly pander to large commercial industries pushing for wolf eradication.”
The number of known wolves in Oregon was 112 animals at the end of 2016, which was just two more than estimated in 2015. Cady also pointed out that the Oregon wolf plan has not been updated since 2010, and a planned update is now three years overdue.
“The department has released a draft of this plan with a science update that calls into serious question the efficacy of killing wolves to prevent conflicts with livestock,” Cady said. “It is ridiculous that the department is prioritizing killing wolves prior to finalizing a sound management policy.”
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.