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on March 02, 2017 at 4:36 PM, updated March 02, 2017 at 4:57 PM
A gray wolf was killed on private land in Wallowa County by a controversial cyanide device used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wildlife officials confirmed Thursday.
The male, 100-pound wolf was a member of the Shamrock Pack in northeast Oregon and believed to be less than 2 years old. Officials had just placed a tracking collar on the animal Feb. 10. The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and the USDA acknowledged Sunday’s “unintentional” killing in a news release.
According to Thursday’s statement, the federal government’s Wildlife Services division was using a cyanide device known as an M-44 to kill coyotes in the area and “prevent coyote-livestock conflict” on the private property.
State officials say the wolf’s death is believed to be the first in Oregon connected to an M-44. The controversial tool is a spring-activated device that is typically smeared with scented bait, then shoots poison into the animal’s mouth when it tugs on the trap.
Oregon removed the gray wolf from its Endangered Species List in November 2015. According to the state’s estimate that year, Oregon is home to at least 110 wolves in more than a dozen packs.
Gov. Kate Brown’s recommended budget doesn’t include $460,000 typically set aside to pay the federal agency to kill animals in Oregon. Brown’s office declined to issue a statement Thursday and deferred to state wildlife officials.
“It’s a pretty sad situation,” Rick Hargrave, an ODFW spokesman, said of the wolf’s death. “We don’t want this to happen.” Wolf OR48 was believed to be one of six members of the Shamrock Pack, according to the 2015 report.
Federal officials are reviewing the death and said in a statement that they would “see if any changes to our procedures are necessary.”
An agency spokesman hadn’t responded to a list of questions via email late Thursday.
But the killing prompted outrage in the conservation community and from one member of Oregon’s congressional delegation.
“I have been trying to ban the indiscriminate use of devices like the M-44 for decades,” U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio said in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “The use of this device by Wildlife Services led to the death of an innocent wolf, has previously killed domestic dogs, and sooner or later, will kill a child.”
DeFazio introduced a bill in 2012 to ban the M-44, which has been used to kill thousands of animals. According to the government’s website, some 383 wolves have been killed in eight states by the agency.
“The federal government should not be using these extreme measures,” DeFazio said. “It’s time to stop subsidizing ranchers’ livestock protection efforts with taxpayer dollars and end the unchecked authority of Wildlife Services once and for all.”
Brooks Fahy, executive director of the Eugene-based nonprofit Predator Defense, said he was not surprised to learn an M-44 had killed a wolf in Oregon.
He also doubted that the wolf’s death was the first in Oregon.
“Besides putting wolves and non-target species at risk,” he said, “they also put domestic pets and people at risk. They’re extraordinarily dangerous.”
He also described the incident as “troubling.”
“This will not be the last time as long as M44s are allowed,” he said.
Hargrave, the state official, said M-44s were forbidden in areas where wolves are known to roam when the animals were listed under the state’s endangered species act.
According to a state permit document outlining situations in which a wolf could be accidentally killed – termed an “incidental take” – M-44s could “not be used in occupied wolf range.” Permit applicants also had to take broader protections, including prohibiting some traps or snares within three miles of known wolf territory.
Once wolves were removed from the endangered list in Oregon, Hargrave said, the state continued to discuss keeping those protections in place.
The animal killed Sunday was in an area known to be home to wolves.