HALFWAY — Northeast Oregon ranchers are again seeking to eradicate the entire Pine Creek wolf pack from Baker County after the apex predators attacked livestock for the third time in just over a week.
The most recent incident was confirmed Sunday, April 15 at Pine Creek Ranch in Halfway, Ore. A 125-pound calf was found dead with bite marks on its hind legs and fresh wolf tracks at the scene. GPS collar data also shows OR-50 and OR-57, members of the Pine Creek pack, were within a mile of the carcass earlier that morning.
The pack is now responsible for killing five calves and wounding four others at two different ranches since April 6, prompting the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association to ask the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill all Pine Creek wolves to prevent further losses.
“The wolves are being seen on the valley floor, and that’s what’s really disconcerting folks,” said George Rollins, a Baker County rancher and co-chairman of the OCA wolf committee for Eastern Oregon. “So many people have seen them now, it’s like daily sightings.”
ODFW has already issued one lethal take permit for up to two wolves from the Pine Creek pack. Wildlife officials shot one yearling female from the pack on April 10. The permit expires May 4.
But incremental take has not proven effective in changing the pack’s behavior, Rollins said.
“They just keep coming back,” he said. “They are not following the herds of elk that are on the low hills area.”
Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for ODFW, said the agency has not decided yet whether to kill more Pine Creek wolves.
Earlier this year, University of Wisconsin researchers released a study suggesting that government killing of wolves may benefit one farmer or rancher, but by fracturing the pack it could actually increase the risk of predation at neighboring farms up to three miles away.
In this case, ODFW authorized killing two wolves from the Pine Creek pack after back-to-back attacks on private land leased by rancher Chad DelCurto. Nine days later, the pack notched its third depredation at Pine Creek Ranch roughly five to six miles away.
Environmental groups are staunchly opposed to killing any wolves in Oregon, arguing the population is still too small and fragile. ODFW reports there were at least 124 wolves statewide at the end of 2017, an 11 percent increase over 2016.
Conservationists also point to four cases of wolves that were illegally killed in 2017. Out of 13 total wolf deaths throughout the year, 12 were human-caused.
Under Phase III of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, ODFW can authorize killing wolves that make a habit of preying on livestock in Eastern Oregon. The species remains federally protected west of highways 395, 78 and 95.
Jerome Rosa, executive director for the OCA, said incremental take of wolves will not solve the problems ranchers face, and actually leads to packs becoming more aggressive.
“It’s a no-win situation,” Rosa said.
The Pine Creek pack includes seven known wolves — after one was shot earlier this month — occupying territory mostly south of the Imnaha River and east of Halfway to the Idaho state line. In 2017, the pack produced at least five pups that survived to the end of the year.