(CNN)The suspects documented their kill in graphic photos — grinning near slumped over carcasses, posing with a decapitated elk head and taking a selfie with animal blood splattered over one of the alleged poacher’s face.
About 23 years ago, the United States embarked on an experiment: What would happen if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released grey wolves in the West?
The results were… mixed.
To their credit, the wolves have successfully controlled the grass-munching elk and deer populations of the Northern Rockies, leaving more habitat available for other species, like bugs and beneficial algae.
But the wolves, it turns out, aren’t that picky when it comes to dinner, and ranchers’ cows make for easy targets. So states have had to readjust. In states like Idaho, for example, ranchers are permitted to protect their herds by killing wolves, and some states also allow wolf trophy hunts in an effort to further thin the packs.
But in Oregon, ranchers have found themselves caught between a snarling rock and a hard regulation — the wolves killing cows on their grazing grounds, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has strict rules against killing them in all but the rarest circumstances.
The ranchers who keep losing cattle to wolves, and the residents of Eastern Oregon who rely on the economy created by the cattle industry, have long argued the state of Oregon should loosen the rules.
And for the first time, starting last year, the state allowed for just that. But when four wolves from the Harl Butte Pack of northeastern Oregon were killed, environmentalists decried the wolf killings as unnecessary and cruel.
Still, ranchers here hope it’s just the start.
The long hunt finally paid off on the night of Aug. 6 for two employees of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. They’d spent a combined 85 hours and driven 752 miles in pursuit of the Harl Butte wolf pack in the northeast corner of the state.
They had already come close, spotting wolves twice but never firing a shot.
But finally, on a Saturday evening, they killed a young male. Two days later, an Oregon Fish and Wildlife employee fired a kill shot from a helicopter while patrolling the rolling forests and pastures. This time it was a young female.
The wolf-killing mission was meant to halt a pack that was helping itself to ranchers’ livestock.
It won’t work, thought Todd Nash. He and other local ranchers wanted the whole pack gone.
“If there was a gang in downtown Portland and there was 13 of them and you randomly took two, you didn’t know if they were the ringleaders or what they were … would you expect to have a positive outcome?” Nash said.
It turned out Nash was right; it didn’t work.
Weeks later, some of the Harl Butte pack’s surviving wolves tore into a 450-pound calf. It was found dead in a pasture Nash leases, with bite marks across its legs, flanks and hocks.
So Oregon wildlife officials killed two more wolves. Weeks later, they said the depredations had stopped.
They hadn’t. The Harl Butte pack struck again in late September, killing a 425-pound calf.
As the number of wolves in Oregon and Washington has grown, wildlife managers are increasingly turning toward lethal tactics to keep them away from ranchers’ livestock. State governments in the Northwest now spend tens of thousands of dollars to kill wolves that prey on cattle and sheep.
State wolf managers are walking a tightrope: growing and sustaining a population of wolves while limiting the loss of livestock for the ranchers who make their living where the predators now roam.
Managing wolves in the West is as much about politics, economics and emotion as it is about science.
“Sometimes you view it as being between a rock and a hard place, or being yelled at from both sides,” said Derek Broman, carnivore and furbearer coordinator for Oregon Fish and Wildlife. “I like to say it’s balance.”
To balance the costs of killing wolves, ecological needs and the concerns of ranchers and wolf advocates, it’s the policy of both Oregon and Washington to kill wolves incrementally — starting with one or two at a time. But in making that compromise between preserving wolves and preventing livestock damage, they’ve taken a course of action that scientific evidence suggests could achieve neither.
Policies and practices in both states go against a growing body of research casting doubt on the overall effectiveness of killing predators.
Neither state follows recent recommendations from top researchers that their efforts to control predators be conducted as well-designed scientific studies. And neither follows the primary recommendation from the research most often used as evidence, which found killing most or all of a pack is the most effective form of “lethal control” to reduce ranchers’ damages.
Instead, some scientists and advocates say, Oregon and Washington are risking harm to the Northwest’s wolf population without ever reducing predation on cattle and sheep.
“Oregon and Washington may be playing with fire in their incremental control approach,” said professor Adrian Treves, who founded the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the University of Wisconsin. “Not only is there very little evidence for the effectiveness of lethal methods, but there are more studies that find counterproductive effects of lethal control, namely that you get higher livestock losses afterward.”
Northwest wildlife managers say they use lethal control, in part, to increase people’s willingness to tolerate wolves. Treves said there’s little data to support that it’s actually helping shape public opinion to accept wolf reintroduction. In fact, Treves has published research suggesting otherwise: that government-sanctioned killing of wolves may actually embolden individuals to illegally do the same.
Policies under scrutiny
He and others have called on governments to re-evaluate their predator control policies. Treves was also one of multiple scientists who filed comments with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, saying his research and others’ had been misinterpreted in the state’s revision of its wolf management plan, which Treves and others criticized for being biased in favor of lethal control.
“It’s just like (when) the government is putting a medicine out there; it needs to prove the medicine is effective,” Treves said. “ Because there are costs. And not just financial. Animals are dying.”
Lethal control policies in both Oregon and Washington are getting pushback from wolf advocates.
In Oregon, multiple groups have called on Gov. Kate Brown’s office to intervene. The governor’s office has not publicly responded and did not respond to requests for comment.
In Washington, two environmental groups filed a lawsuit in September claiming the state’s approach to killing wolves is unnecessary and that its protocols do not satisfy Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act.
Donny Martorello, wolf coordinator for Washington Fish and Wildlife, said the state has seen mixed results with lethal control.
“We’ve had situations where we’ve initiated lethal removal and had to stay with it for quite a period of time. Removing more and more wolves because the conflict kept going and going and going,” he said. In other cases, he said, it seemed to reduce the conflict.
Martorello said the decision to kill wolves to is not about decreasing long-term livestock losses. It’s about intervening in an escalating situation, where prevention has failed and a rancher’s cattle or sheep are dying.
“We turn to lethal removal as a last resort,” Martorello said. “When we remove wolves it is trying to change the behavior of wolves in that period of time. We can’t extend that to say that will prevent negative wolf-livestock interactions in the long term. Because it doesn’t.”
In its lethal control protocol, WDFW cites a paper from Michigan saying the “the act of attempting to lethally remove wolves may result in meeting the goal of changing the behavior of the pack.”
However, that study’s authors do not make claims about changing behavior, and attribute any lower recurrence of attacks on livestock to the increase in human activity nearby — not anything specific to lethal control.
That study also found no correlation between killing a high number of wolves and a reduction in livestock depredation the following year.
Instead, it found the opposite: “Our analyses of localized farm clusters showed that as more wolves were killed one year, the depredations increased the following year.”
Ranchers say lethal is needed
In mid-October, Nash was hauling bags of mineral feed to where his cattle graze in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. He kept stopping along the snowy road.
“That right there is a wolf track,” he said, hopping out for a closer inspection. He spotted another smaller set next to them. “That looks like a pup.”
They were fresh and led toward cattle.
Nearby, a state biologist and the local range rider were doing the same. From time to time, Nash checked in and shared what he knew.
“There’s tracks going both ways,” he tells them. “These were smokin’ fresh.”
In Oregon, like in Washington, wildlife managers only kill wolves if demonstrated non-lethal efforts to deter wolves have failed. Those preventative measures have been adopted inconsistently, and with mixed reviews. Many say they’ve seen improvements by removing bone piles that attract wolves and by increasing human presence. Here, Nash said he’s had someone in the pasture nearly every day, including his own cowboys, a county range rider and a friend he hired to camp nearby.
Cattle die for many reasons on the open range. Wolves account for only a fraction of ranchers’ losses, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. In the Northwest, documented kills by wolves amount to a few dozen per year in a region with more than two million cattle.
But for an individual producer, wolf damage can be a devastating blow. Especially when it’s on top of added stress and added costs of preventing wolf attacks.
Turning cattle out to roam after a long winter used to be a time to relax and celebrate, Nash said.
“You’d go, ‘oh, this is so nice,’” he said. “And now, that’s been taken away from us. I’m sad about that.”
This past summer’s wolf killings are in the same area where Oregon officials previously killed four members of the Imnaha pack. Nash said killing wolves from the Imnaha pack bought ranchers temporary relief from the predators. But, eventually, a new pack moved in.
After a few hours on snowy roads in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Nash had no wolves in his sights. He decided to head home.
“I’m a little disappointed,” he said, patting a black bolt-action rifle resting beside the driver’s seat of his pickup. “I’m definitely nervous. You see how close they are to the cattle.”
In most Western states where wolves live, ranchers can submit claims for financial compensation for cattle killed by wolves. But Nash said that’s a poor substitute for losing one of the cows or calves he takes pride in and cares for.
“We’ll take the no wolves over compensation any day, given the choice,” Nash said. “It’s not in us to allow our cattle to be killed. It’s an act that’s contrary to everything we do.”
Lethal control has broad support from farmers and ranchers. It’s seen as a crucial tool to protect livestock. Government killing of predators is common worldwide — from wolves, cougars and coyotes in the American West to dingos in the Australian Outback. In the United States, the federal government’s Wildlife Services agency has killed more than two million mammals since 2000.
In the dark on what works
“It’s not fair to our farmers,” said Australia-based scientist Lily Van Eden, who published a paper on the subject in 2017.
Examining past studies of the various techniques used to control predators, Van Eden found wide swings in results. That includes two studies of lethal control and one of guardian dogs that all showed increases in livestock losses.
Van Eden’s paper was one of four published in the past two years examining the current landscape of predator control research.
Each team reached the same conclusion: there is not sufficient evidence to say if and when killing large carnivores, such as wolves, actually achieves the desired result of reducing the loss of cattle or sheep. The same can be said for most non-lethal techniques.
Much of the research into the topic of both lethal and non-lethal predator control is flawed in one way or another. Of the research that does exists, more studies showed lethal control efforts to be ineffective or counterproductive at reducing ranchers’ losses.
Without gold-standard research on the subject, existing data can be used to justify opposing positions.
Take, for instance, a study published in 2014 led by Washington State University professor Robert Wielgus. It used data from the wolf population in Rocky Mountain states. The study showed livestock lost to wolves actually increased after some wolves were killed. It was criticized for not adequately accounting for changes over time. A University of Washington team re-analyzed the data and published essentially the opposite finding, only to be criticized for over-correcting and making their own statistical errors.
Exactly how killing wolves could lead to an increase in depredations is not well understood. But there are several possible factors: Removing a pack could allow new wolves to move in, creating disruptions and unusual foraging techniques. Removing part of the pack could displace the remaining wolves to neighboring farms or pastures, who then prey on livestock. Or the pack could be weakened, limiting its ability to successfully hunt its natural prey of elk and deer.
“The information out there is not conclusive,” said the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Broman. “It’s still kind of an early discipline. We look at what pieces of that information are most applicable here and what could potentially work.”
Avoiding the all-or-nothing approach
That paper’s findings do not wholly endorse what Oregon and Washington are doing when they kill only one or two wolves at a time.
“There wasn’t very much gained by such a small partial pack removal. You gain about two months,” Bradley said.
The study concluded killing one or two wolves from a pack meant an average of about two months until the next wolf kill. With no action taken, that time between wolf attacks was a little less than a month. That’s a marginal difference compared to eliminating the full wolf pack, which resulted in an average of about two years until the next wolf attack. Ranchers like Todd Nash say this is a good reason to favor full pack removal.
Bradley acknowledged removing a full wolf pack isn’t always an option. But if you’re going to kill only one or two members of the pack, she found, it has to be within a week to be most effective. Bradley said her study wasn’t intended to endorse or condemn killing wolves but rather to offer guidance on how to be most effective.
Exactly why, she doesn’t know. But she suspects it increases the likelihood of shooting the culprit wolf.
Washington officials say they aim to respond within two weeks after a depredation. Oregon’s last two state-sanctioned wolf killings were carried out 10 days and 19 days, respectively, after a depredation.
These wolf attacks on livestock often happen in remote areas and go undiscovered for stretches of time. Responding within a week might not always be an option.
“If you don’t do it within the first week or two weeks, then you probably shouldn’t bother,” Bradley said. “After that, we found there was no difference.”
ODFW’s Broman said Oregon is testing out unproven methods like incremental pack killing because it doesn’t want an all-or-nothing approach.
“We’re seeing if it works. It’s still a test to see what we’re looking for,” Broman said. “If you went exclusively by Bradley, you’d either do nothing or full pack removal. Full pack removal is very difficult.”
The problem with non-lethal, and finding a better way
Wolf advocates have pushed non-lethal alternatives to killing wolves to reduce livestock depredations. They advocate techniques like hazing wolves, fencing off cattle or using guard dogs. But there’s also a lack of evidence on those. And they’re also expensive and time consuming for ranchers.
A recent study done in Idaho by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Defenders of Wildlife yielded promising results for non-lethal techniques. Over seven years, researchers found the rate of sheep losses due to wolves was 3.5 times lower in an area where they used only non-lethal techniques, compared to an area open to lethal control. That was in rugged, remote pastures where non-lethal techniques were used.
That was a designed study with funding from conservation groups, the federal government and private donors. The study included field technicians who could help pen sheep at night and employ other wolf deterrents. The study’s author, Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife, said those non-lethal methods cost less money than Wildlife Services spent on killing wolves in nearby pastures. And those same methods are being used as part of a non-lethal program covering 10,000 sheep grazing across an area of nearly 1,000 square miles.
Most ranchers don’t have the time or manpower to do what that study did, said Julie Young, a researcher for the government’s Wildlife Services.
Young has been working on how to adapt non-lethal practices for widespread adoption.
“Maybe there’s a happy medium,” she said. “We’re going to do these things, but we actually want to measure it as we’re doing it, so we can know if this program we’re investing time or money or resources in is cost-effective or effective at all.”
She said programs like lethal control and compensation for non-lethal measures, including the ones used in Oregon and Washington, are ripe for study.
“We need better data,” Young said. “Otherwise we’re going to also lose trust, if we just start pushing tools on people and they don’t work.”
Wolf expert Carter Niemeyer trapped, collared, tracked and sometimes shot wolves during a long career with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Eric MortensonCapital Press
Published on November 6, 2017 1:36PM
A retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist with 30 years experience said it is unlikely a wolf shot by an Oregon elk hunter was attacking the man.
Carter Niemeyer, who lives in Boise and oversaw or consulted on wolf recovery work throughout the West, also said descriptions of the bullet trajectory — in one shoulder and out the other – raise doubt about the hunter’s account that the wolf was running at him when he fired.
“That’s a broadside shot, not a running-at-you shot,” Niemeyer said. “If the bullet path is through one side and out the other, it indicates to me an animal could have been standing, not moving, and the shot was well placed.”
A bullet that hit the wolf as it was running forward most likely would have exited out the hips or rear end, Niemeyer said. He acknowledge the bullet or fragments could have deflected off bone, but said a forensic exam would have to explain that. Michelle Dennehy, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman, said the agency did not request a necropsy because the cause of death — gunshot — was known.
Niemeyer said the hunter’s account of taking a “snap shot into a ball of fur” is unlikely.
“I have to tell you I doubt the story,” he said.
Niemeyer, 70, said he’s hunted predators for 52 years as a government hunter and a taxidermist, and has dealt with fellow sportsmen and shooters for decades. “I’ve heard every story,” he said. “This story is very suspect to me.”
The elk hunter, Brian Scott, 38, of Clackamas, Ore., told Oregon State Police that the wolf ran straight at him. Scott told police he screamed, took quick aim and fired his 30.06 rifle once. Scott said he saw nothing but fur in the rifle’s scope as the wolf ran at him, according to published reports.
In an interview with outdoor writer Bill Monroe of The Oregonian/Oregon Live, Scott said he was terrified.
“People envision this jerk hunter out to kill anything, but that’s not me,” he told Monroe. “It frustrates me they don’t understand. I’m a meat hunter. I was looking for a spike elk. This wasn’t exciting. It ruined my hunt.”
Scott told Monroe he didn’t think he had time to fire a warning shot. He could not explain the bullet’s path, which entered the wolf’s right shoulder and exited the left, other than perhaps the wolf turned at the last instant or the bullet deflected.
Niemeyer, the retired wildlife biologist, said wolves will “turn around and take off” when they realize they’re near a human. Niemeyer said he had “many, many close encounters with wolves” while doing trapping, collaring and other field work for USFWS in Idaho, Oregon and elsewhere. He said wolves sometimes ran at him and approached within 6 to 8 feet before veering away.
Wolves are potentially dangerous, he said, “but all my experience tells me it would be fearful of a human.”
People in such situations should stand up if they are concealed, show themselves, and yell or throw things, Niemeyer said. Hunters could fire a shot into the ground or into a tree and “scare the hell out of them,” he said.
“That would have been the first logical thing to do,” he said. “The gunshot and a yell from a human would turn every wolf I’ve ever known inside out trying to get away.”
He also suggested people venturing into the woods should carry bear repellent spray, which certainly would also deter wolves, cougars or coyotes.
“If everyone shoots everything they’re afraid of, wow, that’s not a good thing,” he said.
Niemeyer acknowledged his reaction is based on years of experience with wolves.
“People say, ‘That’s easy for you to say, Carter, you worked with wolves for 30 years and you’re familiar with their behavior,’” he said.
The shooting happened Oct. 27 in ODFW’s Starkey Wildlife Management Unit west of La Grande, in Northeast Oregon.
Scott, the hunter, told police he was hunting and had intermittently seen what he thought might be coyotes. At one point, two of them circled off to the side while a third ran at him. Scott said he shot that one and the others ran away.
Scott went back to his hunting camp and told companions what had happened. They returned to the shooting scene and concluded the dead animal was a wolf. The hunter then notified state police and ODFW, which investigated. Police later found a shell casing 27 yards from the wolf carcass. The Union County district attorney’s office reviewed the case and chose not to file charges.
The Portland-based conservation group Oregon Wild raised questions about the incident. Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild’s field representative in Northeast Oregon, said he’s seen wolves in the wild several times and backed away without trouble or harm. Even the late OR-4, the fearsome breeding male of the infamous Imnaha Pack in Wallowa County, retreated and barked when it encountered Klavins and a hiking party.
“This (hunter) may have felt fear, but since wolves returned to Oregon, no one has so much as been licked by a wolf, and that’s still true today,” Klavins said.
“What has changed is we now have wolves on the landscape, 10 years ago we didn’t,” Klavins said. “Especially in the fall (hunting season), armed people are going to be out encountering wolves.”
Oregon Wild believes poachers have killed several Oregon wolves, and USFWS on Nov. 6 offered a $5,000 reward for information about a collared wolf designated OR-25 that was found dead Oct. 29 in South Central Oregon.
Klavins said wolf shooters might now use a “self-defense” claim as a “free pass to poaching.”
BY ANDREW THEEN
Brian Scott screamed, pointed his .30-06 rifle, saw hair through the scope, and pulled the trigger once.
Scott shot and killed a gray wolf while elk hunting in rural Union County on Oct. 27. The experienced hunter notified state police of the incident and told the responding trooper, Marcus McDowell, a harrowing tale of self-defense.
Authorities agreed and declined to prosecute the wolf killing, the first reported instance of a protected wolf being shot and killed by a hunter who feared for their life.
Scott could not be reached for comment on this story.
The 38-year-old Clackamas resident told McDowell those details on Oct. 27, hours after the shooting. More details emerged Friday one week after the incident.
McDowell determined the bullet entered the animal’s front right side and exited through the left.
In a Thursday press release, the agency said “based upon the available evidence” the hunter acted in self-defense.
According to the three-page police report obtained through a public record request, Scott was hunting last week in the Starkey hunting unit of Union County near La Grande off of a forest service road where he was camping with several other hunters. At about 7:15 a.m., he left to hunt, and a little after leaving camp he saw animals moving around him.
“I could not identify what was moving around me,” he told McDowell. “There are a lot of coyotes out here.”
Scott hiked into a nearby timber stand and sat for 20 or 30 minutes. After leaving the trees and heading into a meadow, he saw to his left what he assumed was a coyote.
“He was running at me, which is very odd,” Scott told the trooper.
A second animal was behind the first.
A third animal “was running directly at me,” Scott said.
“I definitely felt like she had targeted me,” he said, “and was running at me to make contact.”
He told the trooper he feared for his life. “It was unnerving.”
Scott shot the third animal from roughly 27 yards away and watched the other two run into the timber near a forest road.
The other wolves howled, according to the police account.
An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife official, Leonard Erickson, later arrived to the scene and helped recover the animal. One of four additional hunters at the camp transported the wolf, an 83-pound female connected to OR-30.
The pictures and police report paint a different picture, according to wolf advocacy group Oregon Wild.
The animal’s death also comes on the heels of five recent approved wolf shootings in eastern Oregon. It is illegal to kill a wolf unless it’s caught red-handed killing livestock — a rare occurrence that has happened just once in 2016 — or in the event of self-defense. Legally, animals can be killed if they are confirmed to have repeatedly attacked livestock.
Steve Pedery, the nonprofit’s conservation director, said in an email that he’d like to see further investigation of the hunting incident. He’s not convinced the animal was running at the hunter, and questioned why the wounds are on the animal’s side.
“How can a wolf that is moving away from someone be a threat?” Pedery asked, “and why would ODFW sign off on a report that is directly contradicted by the evidence?”
A hunter shot and killed a wolf that he said was running at him.
A 38-year-old hunter says he shot and killed a wolf that was “running directly at him” in northeast Oregon’s Union County, the Oregon State Police reported Tuesday.
It’s illegal to kill a wolf in Oregon, but police said the hunter, who wasn’t named, won’t be charged because it’s believed he was acting in self-defense, officials said.
The incident marks the first time that a wolf has been reported shot in self-defense in Oregon since they began returning to the state in the late 1990s.
According to police, the hunter was stalking elk in the Starkey Wildlife Management Unit when he observed three of what he assumed were coyotes, police said.
One of the animals began to run directly at him, while another made its way around him, the hunter told police. He said he screamed at the lead animal but, fearing for his life, shot the animal a single time.
Later, the hunter, who is from Clackamas County, later discovered the animal was a wolf and “self-reported shooting a wolf in Union County,” police said.
The Union County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the case and said the hunter wouldn’t be prosecuted because it’s believed “to be an incidence of self-defense.”
Confirmed reports of wolves attacking humans are extremely rare.
“Wolves typically try to avoid humans whenever possible,” Oregon State University professor Bill Ripple told the Statesman Journal in a previous interview.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a report that “wolves will tend to avoid people and wolf-human conflicts are extremely rare. They are more likely to occur when wolves are habituated to people, when dogs are involved, or if wolves are sick (e.g. rabies).”
© 2017 KGW-TV
A man from Hillsboro, Ore., died Friday after a tree fell on him while he was hunting in the Blue Mountains near Heppner.
The Morrow County Sheriff’s Office said they received a 911 call at 11 a.m. Friday from someone who had been with the man but had to hike up a ridge to get cell service.
The caller said the 34-year-old hunter was hit by the tree in a heavily wooded area with a couple of inches of snow, and he was not breathing.
PORTLAND, Ore.— Conservation organizations are bolstering a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services reward for information on the illegal killing of OR-33, a federally protected gray wolf in southwestern Oregon. The Service has offered a $5,000 reward, and five conservation organizations have contributed an additional $10,500, bringing the total to $15,500.
Since 2015 at least eight wolves have been poached or died under mysterious circumstances in Oregon. Those include OR-33, OR-28, OR-22, OR-34, OR-31, an uncollared sub-adult wolf from the Walla Walla pack, and two wolves known as the Sled Springs pair. Poaching is an acute problem in Oregon, which demands serious attention from lawmakers and wildlife management officials — to strengthen and enforce wildlife laws, and to deter and fully prosecute criminals.
“Poaching is a huge and growing problem in Oregon. We need everyone’s help to catch this killer. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation groups alike are working together to bring justice for OR-33, and send a message that this vile act won’t be tolerated in our state,” said Quinn Read, Northwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife.
“We can only hope that this reward helps stop the next protected wolf from being killed,” said Joseph Vaile, executive director at the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.
“This is a heartbreaking loss for Oregon’s wolves. Wolf recovery in Oregon depends on wolves like OR-33 making their way west and thriving, so his death is a major setback. We hope someone will do the right thing and come forward with information,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We are helping contribute to the reward fund in the hopes of finding the perpetrator and bringing them to justice. Going forward, we encourage the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to take wolf poaching more seriously,” said Danielle Moser, wildlife coordinator for Oregon Wild.
“The senseless killing of one of Oregon’s iconic wolves is an appalling and serious crime. We are grateful to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their diligent efforts to find those responsible and bring the offender or offenders to justice,” said Scott Beckstead, senior Oregon state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
Anyone with information about this case should call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (503) 682-6131 or Oregon State Police Tip Line at (800) 452-7888.
OR-33 was found dead of gunshot wounds near Klamath Falls on April 23. Details about this illegal killing were released on Oct. 11 after the Fish and Wildlife Service completed a necropsy.
OR-33 was a 4-year-old male gray wolf. He dispersed from the Imnaha Pack in northeast Oregon in November 2015. Although he had a collar, it stopped functioning in August 2016.
Killing a gray wolf in the western two-thirds of Oregon is a violation of the Endangered Species Act. It is also a violation of Oregon state game laws and is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. The investigation of this crime is being conducted by the Oregon State Police and the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Last week, Oregon removed two more Harl Butte wolves from the pack after weeks of persistent livestock depredation. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) have been carefully monitoring the pack via a single radio-collared wolf in the pack; the two selected wolves were non-breeding members, according to ODFW.
“We have discovered in the past few weeks working out in the field with this pack, that it’s actually larger than originally expected,” ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy told KBND. “We thought there were seven wolves plus three pups and we’ve since learned that there were ten wolves with three pups, so now there are eight wolves, and after this there will be six. So, we hope that has the impact that we’re looking for.”
While ODFW has worked to keep livestock safe from the Harl Butte pack via non-lethal measures like electric fences, range riders, ranchers spending more time with livestock and wolf hazing, because this pack is so large, livestock continues to be in danger. The decision to remove problem wolves from the pack follows Oregon’s wolf management plan.
“We have a wolf plan that guides wolf management in Oregon,” says Dennehy. “Unfortunately, sometimes, wolves will kill livestock, and the Harl Butte wolf pack, which is in Wallowa county, killed livestock and that’s why we are going to kill an additional two members from this pack.”
COURTESY OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission heard from dozens of people with diametrically opposed views when it took its wolf plan review on the road to hearings in Klamath Falls and Portland this spring. When the commission sits down with ODFW staff June 8 in Salem, members will sift those viewpoints with their own to determine how the state will manage a top predator that wasn’t here when the plan was first adopted a dozen years ago. Adoption of a five-year plan is expected late this year.
Potential changes are on the distant horizon. Ultimately, the state will decide whether wolves are hunted like cougars and bears, whether USDA’s APHIS Wildlife Services — loathed by conservation groups — will investigate livestock attacks, whether to give livestock producers more leeway to kill wolves, whether to set population caps, and more.
A glimpse of where Oregon’s wolf management may be headed in years to come might be found in Idaho, which was the source of the first wolves to enter Oregon and has much more experience balancing the presence of an apex predator with the interests and economic well-being of hunters and livestock producers.
Idaho has an estimated 800 wolves — probably more — and has actively managed them since federal officials took wolves off the endangered species list statewide in 2011.
Compared to Oregon, which documented 112 wolves at the end of 2016, Idaho’s numbers are staggering.
In 2015, hunters and trappers legally killed 256 wolves in Idaho, the same number as in 2014. Another 75 wolves were “lethally controlled.” Of those, 54 were killed in response to livestock depredations or by producers protecting herds. Another 21 wolves were taken out to protect deer and elk populations in Northern Idaho.
In all, Idaho documented 358 wolf deaths in 2015; two fewer than in 2014. Figures for 2016 were not available.
According to Idaho Fish and Game, the number of sheep and cattle killed by wolves has been “stable to declining” since the state began allowing hunting in 2009. In 2015, wolves killed 44 cattle, 134 sheep, three dogs and a horse.
Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore has described Idaho’s wolf population as healthy and sustainable.
Department spokesman Mike Keckler said the state has proven it can manage wolves in balance with livestock and prey species.
“There’s no doubt state management of wolves has been a success in Idaho,” Keckler said. “We remove wolves when they cause problems, we’re not afraid to do that. We move quickly when problems occur.”
The thought of Oregon adopting such an attitude doesn’t sit well with conservation groups.
“This is not Idaho,” Cascadia Wildlands legal director Nick Cady said pointedly during ODFW’s May 19 hearing in Portland.
Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild warn the state shouldn’t loosen its wolf management rules. Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild’s field coordinator in Northeast Oregon, said Oregon’s adherence to its adopted plan was one of the reasons there wasn’t more of an outcry when the department shot four members of the Imnaha Pack in 2016.
During the Klamath Falls and Portland ODFW hearings, representatives from the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, Oregon Hunters Association and Oregon Farm Bureau urged changes.
Among other things, producers say ODFW staff is spread too thin and sometimes can’t respond quickly to wolf attacks. They favor allowing Wildlife Services to investigate livestock attacks as well, and make the call on whether wolves were responsible. They oppose a draft plan proposal to change the lethal control standard to three confirmed depredations or one confirmed and four “probable” attacks within a 12 month period. The current standard is two confirmed depredations or one confirmed and three attempted attacks, with no time period set.
Todd Nash, a Wallowa County commissioner and the Cattlemen’s Association wolf chair, said a neighbor has eight cows. If wolves kill three in one night, he asked during the Portland hearing, does the producer have to endure two more attacks before lethal control is taken?
The groups also believe ODFW should continue collaring wolves, and should set a population cap for wolves in Oregon.
ODFW Director Curt Melcher said the commission heard good points from all sides.
“Even though folks don’t agree, they all got along just fine,” he said. “It was a respectful process. The other remarkable thing is that nobody is saying there shouldn’t be any wolves in Oregon. That wasn’t the case not too long ago. Everybody recognizes we’re going to have wolves in Oregon and we’re going to have to manage them.”
The draft plan allows killing wolves for chronic depredation of livestock and in localized cases where they’re depleting deer and elk populations. Eventually, Melcher said Oregon might reach a point in the future where hunting becomes a part of wolf population management, as it is with other game animals. He said the original plan drafters also anticipated wolf management, including lethal control, becoming more routine. It is logical for Wildlife Services to help on depredation investigations he said. As wolves increase in number and geographical range, investigations become a workload management issue for ODFW, he said.
“I think we’ve done a good job so far,” he said. “We’ve navigated through potentially difficult waters and in large part have done it efficiently.”