Oregon wildlife officials won’t authorize killing members of the Mount Emily wolf pack despite five confirmed attacks on a sheep herd since June.
Under the state’s wolf recovery plan, which moved into Phase 2 this year, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife can authorize lethal control of wolves after two confirmed “depredations,” or one confirmed attack and three attempts.
But ODFW chose not to in this case, despite four documented attacks by the Mount Emily pack in August and a fifth in June.
At least seven sheep and a guard dog were killed in pack attacks investigated June 22, Aug. 4, Aug. 15, Aug. 24 and Aug. 27. The attacks would have qualified for lethal control even under Phase 1 of the recovery plan, which required four confirmed depredations over a six-month period.
As required under the wolf plan, producer Jeremy Bingham of Utopia Land and Livestock formally asked ODFW for “lethal relief from the wolves that are massacring our sheep.”
The department, which hasn’t authorized killing any wolves since two in 2011, turned him down. In a Sept. 25 letter to Bingham, ODFW wildlife biologist Mark Kirsch said non-lethal measures had worked since the last attack in late August.
“We are sorry your experience with Oregon’s forest lands has been problematic this year,” Kirsch concluded in his letter to Bingham. “It is our hope you complete your grazing season with no further loss.”
Department officials also noted Bingham would be removing his sheep from the area in October under the terms of his seasonal grazing permit in the Umatilla National Forest.
Department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said the Mount Emily pack now is frequenting the central and southern part of their known range area, and the sheep are in the northeastern edge. Three of the pack members wear radio collars that allow biologists to track their movements.
Bingham is furious, and said ODFW officials are dishonest and “two-faced politicians.”
“It’s unfortunate I trusted them,” he said by text to the Capital Press. “The only interest to them is that the wolves eat the economy of Eastern Oregon.”
Bingham said he’s been patient and followed Oregon’s rules in the face of repeated losses to wolves over the past two years. He estimates he has lost more than 100 ewes. One guard dog was killed this year; in 2014 two were injured and another disappeared and is presumed dead.
“We have not harmed any wolves but we are not in the business of sacrificing assets to feed (ODFW’s) pet dogs,” Bingham said by text.
ODFW investigates reported livestock attacks but follows a strict protocol that includes examining wounds and measuring bite marks and tracks before confirming wolves were responsible. ODFW depredation reports do not correspond to Bingham’s claimed losses. He said he didn’t report many attacks; other producers have repeatedly said livestock often disappear in wolf country. They suspect wolves kill many more cattle and sheep than are confirmed in depredation reports.
Bingham is general manager of Utopia Land and Livestock, a family company based in Burley, Idaho. He grazes sheep in Idaho, and for the past three seasons held a grazing permit in the Umatilla National Forest in Oregon as well. The permit allowed him to graze 2,000 ewes and lambs for a little over four months. He must remove them from public land Oct. 9.
The Mount Emily pack, which at the end of 2014 was thought to consist of seven wolves, has been a problem.
In September 2014 wolves attacked Bingham’s sheep on consecutive nights, killing a total of eight sheep and injuring two of five guard dogs; a third dog was missing, according to the initial ODFW report. The incident was the first time herd dogs were attacked in Oregon, the department said at the time.
Bingham said he’s taken steps to fend off wolves. He hired a herder who is with the sheep 24 hours a day, placed five to seven guard dogs with each sheep band, penned sheep at night on occasion and deployed alarm lights and a siren that is activated by a wolf’s radio collar. He said a federal Wildlife Services agent voluntarily sat with the herd overnight several times.
Bingham said Wildlife Services and the U.S. Forest Service, which administers the grazing allotment, have been “incredible” agencies to work with. He said ODFW led him to believe there was recourse for the wolf attacks but now won’t do what’s allowed under the state plan. He said allowing wolves to kill multiple sheep is “just training pups to be chronic depredators.” He predicted elk and antelope populations will decline due to wolves and said attacks on humans will happen.
“ODFW has an agenda and it is only about politics, not science,” Bingham said.