The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has decided to kill members of the Harl Butte wolf pack in Eastern Oregon in an attempt to disrupt the pack’s behavior and prevent future livestock losses.
The decision comes after Wallowa County ranchers requested lethal control because the pack has attacked cattle seven times in the past 13 months. It marks the eighth time state officials in Oregon or Washington have taken lethal action on wolves that preyed on livestock.
Rather than remove the entire pack, as requested, wildlife officials will kill two adult wolves and then reevaluate. If depredation continues, more wolves could be killed. The approach is similar to a tactic the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife began last week, when it began killing members of the Smackout Pack in the forests north of Spokane.
“In this chronic situation, lethal control measures are warranted,” Roblyn Brown, ODFW Acting Wolf Coordinator, said in a release. “We will use incremental removal to give the remaining wolves the opportunity to change their behavior or move out of the area.”
In Oregon, lethal control can be considered after multiple confirmed depredations by a wolf pack if the livestock producer has taken steps to avoid attracting wolves, like removing carcasses, and documented unsuccessful attempts to solve the problem through non-lethal means, like increased range riding or using radio boxes or fence lining called fladry to deter wolves.
In this case, the state decided ranchers had taken sufficient measures.
“Based on the level of non-lethal measures already being used and the fact that wolves are likely to be in the presence of cattle in this area for several more months, there is a substantial risk that depredation will continue or escalate,” said Brown.
Both ranchers and wolf advocates voiced displeasure over the decision, for different reasons.
“They’re only taking two out. It won’t be effective,” said Todd Nash, chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association wolf committee. “It means more dead and wounded cattle. It means more sleepless nights for the people trying to protect their livestock. This is not an easy area to try and protect livestock.”
In previous public hearings, cattlemen have told state officials they feel Oregon has slighted ranchers by being too hesitant to point to wolves as the culprit for dead cattle and sheep and to take lethal action against packs that repeatedly prey on livestock.
On large, public allotments used for grazing in the eastern portions of Oregon and Washington, cattle carcasses can be hard to find. Ranchers say state biologists are too slow to respond, allowing evidence to deteriorate, ultimately leading them to undercount wolf predation. In some parts of the state, the number of missing livestock blamed on wolves greatly outnumbers confirmed wolf kills.
“The action here is just kind of a punt,” Nash said. “We know they probably won’t change their ways. We’ll put it back on the cattlemen’s back to defend their livestock once again.”
There are at least 112 wolves in Oregon by last count. As the population increased, the state entered a new phase of wolf management that lowered the threshold of attacks on livestock before wolves can be killed. It's been a point of contention among ranchers, who want the ability to protect their livestock, and environmental groups who push for wolf protections.
Source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Advocates for wolves in Oregon fear killing wolves is becoming a too familiar pattern.
“It appears to us ODFW appears to be capitulating to pressure from the livestock industry to make a wolf-free zone in this part of the state,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild.
Pedery said he didn’t consider the evidence showing non-lethal deterrence to be sufficient. He called the lethal action a failure of the wolf plan.
“The reason we have this plan is to try and prevent conflicts between wolves and livestock, and err on the side of protecting wolves and native wildlife. It’s not there to grant kill permits and make it easier for livestock operations to kill wolves on public land,” Pedery said.
Last week, the group sent a letter to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asking her to intervene, but has not received a response.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife killed the Imnaha Pack in the same area a little over a year ago. The agency also killed wolves in Wallowa County in 2011.
In addition to the current lethal action on the Smackout Pack, officials in Washington also killed wolves from the Profanity Peak pack in 2016 and the Wedge Pack in 2012.