ODFW says three wolves killed in Wallowa County poisoning

By Antonio Sierra (OPB)
May 18, 2024 12:08 a.m.

The state has documented nineteen wolf poisonings since 2015

A pack of wolves makes their way through the snow in Northeastern Oregon.

A pack of wolves makes their way through the snow in Northeastern Oregon.

Courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Thursday that three wolves were fatally poisoned in Wallowa County, the latest in a string of Northeast Oregon wildlife poisonings that stretches back years.


Wildlife officials received a mortality alert from a collared wolf in the Hells Canyon Recreation Area on Feb. 3. After traveling to eastern Wallowa County, ODFW employees found three dead wolves. In the ensuing weeks, state workers would find the bodies of two golden eagles, a cougar, a coyote and other birds linked to the source of the deaths: a poisoned cow carcass found at the bottom of the creek in the Imnaha River drainage.

Wild animals aren’t the only creatures threatened. The wildlife agency said Oregon State Police have confirmed a domestic dog poisoning north of Enterprise and suspect another dog was poisoned north of Imnaha.

“Northeast Oregon is known for its natural resources and outdoor opportunities, so it’s just terrible to have this going on,” ODFW wildlife division administrator Bernadette Graham-Hudson said in a statement. “We hope whoever is poisoning wildlife is quickly caught and punished for the safety of people, wildlife, and pets in northeast Oregon.”

Two men in hazmat suits handle a decomposing cow carcass from a creek bed with the aid of black tarp.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife remove a poisoned cow carcass from a creek in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in Wallowa County, Ore. in 2024.

Courtesy Photo

ODFW staff wore hazmat gear while extracting the dead cow from the riverbed and the state agency is advising recreationists to be on the lookout for poison while outdoors, as it could be harmful to both humans and animals.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the state police are offering $25,000 for information about the poisonings that leads to an arrest, conviction or civil penalty. Poisoning a wolf is a felony in Oregon and could result in up to five years in prison.


Wolf poisonings are not new to Oregon. ODFW has documented 19 across the state since 2015.

The trend is especially sharp in Eastern Oregon, where ranchers often clash with predators who sometimes kill livestock. ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said the department logged eight wolf poisonings in Union County in 2021 and another seven across Baker, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties in 2023.

Locals and environmentalists react

Wally Sykes has been tracking wolves from his home near Joseph since around 2009 when wolves started migrating to northeast Oregon after going extinct in the state in the 20th century.

“I found wolf tracks right away and it just took my breath away,” he said. “Finally, we have wolves back in Oregon.”

Skyes became an advocate as local ranchers began speaking out against wolves. Sykes has noticed fewer wolves in the area in recent years as growth in wolf populations has stalled, a trend he not only attributes to illegal poaching, but also to ODFW sanctioning the hunting of wolves connected with livestock kills. ODFW and the Oregon State Police have a “100% failure rate” in capturing the people behind previous wolf poisonings, he said.

“The whole situation is — disappointing isn’t an adequate word to describe it,” Sykes said.

John Williams, the co-chair of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s wolf committee, said his organization does not condone poaching. However, Williams said, the group was in favor of “good wolf management,” including ODFW killing wolves that repeatedly prey on livestock.

Sristi Kamal, the deputy director of the Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center, said authorities need to revamp their messaging to prevent further wolf killings. The discussion shouldn’t just center around wolves’ conflict with livestock, she said, but also the important role wolves play in the landscape.

“Unless we’re able to change that narrative, the social intolerance for wolves in Oregon will continue and we are already on a really bad path,” she said.