Oregon experiences first case of wolf predation

May 15, 2009
by WLJ

Oregon experiences first case of wolf predation

A wolf captured near Baker City, OR, two weeks ago is thought to be one of two responsible for the first known case of livestock depredation by wolves since they first reappeared in the state 10 years ago. The capture of the 87-pound male was the culmination of an effort that began in mid-April when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) confirmed that wolves were responsible for killing nearly two dozen lambs belonging to Keating Valley rancher Curt Jacobs. The lambs were being kept in a pen on his ranch. The wolves are also responsible for killing a calf belonging to neighboring rancher Tik Moore in an attack that occurred roughly 300 yards from his home.

Once captured, the wolf was fitted with a radio collar and released to allow the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to track the wolf’s movements and alert any ranchers whose livestock may be in danger. Releasing the wolf, rather than relocating it to another area, raised a few eyebrows around the ranching community. But USFWS spokesman Phil Carroll says releasing was the best course of action in this instance.

"If you put a wolf like that down anywhere within a hundred miles, he’s probably going to be back tomorrow," said Carroll. He also points out that nearby wilderness areas are still covered in snow, which increases the likelihood of the wolves returning to harass more livestock.

"At some point, we need to start training him (the wolf) that livestock is not a good way to make a living," adds Carroll. He asserts that it is better to begin that process now, rather than starting over the next time the wolf decides to return.

The event has raised concerns among Oregon ranchers with regard to their ability to adequately defend their property. Although the recent federal delisting of the gray wolf did include the portion of Oregon that lies east of Highways 395, 78, and 95, the animals remain protected under the state’s own Endangered Species Act (ESA). Wolves found west of that line remain protected under both federal and state laws. Under Oregon’s current wolf management plan, ranchers may only haze wolves, even if they are seen killing livestock. Unlawfully injuring or killing a wolf can carry hefty fines, and even jail time. Oregon Cattleman’s Association (OCA) President Bill Moore voiced his concerns in a recent press release.

"Imagine if a marauder came onto your property to maim, kill, and steal from you, and you couldn’t do anything but yell and wave your arms," said Moore. "Our animals are our livelihood, our income; and we need to be able to protect them."

OCA has called on Oregon lawmakers to amend a bill currently before the state legislature. The proposed amendment would change the wording of the bill, allowing ranchers to defend their livestock with lethal force when necessary.

ODFW is also in favor of providing ranchers with more control in the handling of problem wolves. ODFW has tried repeatedly in the past to enact legislation designed to make the wolf management plan more effective at addressing the needs of all involved parties. Most notably, a bill submitted in 2007, if passed, would have allowed ranchers to lethally remove wolves that were caught killing livestock and would also have established a state fund to help compensate ranchers for depredation. Lawmakers couldn’t agree on the bill at that time and it never made it to a vote. However, Michelle Dennehy, wildlife communications coordinator for ODFW, points out that the current Wolf Management Plan does provide livestock producers and wildlife managers with some tools to respond to wolf depredation.

"It is important to note that ODFW can provide a permit to allow the legal taking of a wolf," says Dennehy. She further states that such permits could be issued only after all available non-lethal methods of discouraging the wolves had proved unsuccessful.

In the meantime, officials have provided the ranchers with radio-activated guard boxes which will emit a loud noise when the collared wolf approaches them. Flagged fencing, or "fladry" is also being utilized to try to prevent the wolves from returning to the area. Both of these methods have been utilized in other states where wolves are present, with varying degrees of success. But Carroll acknowledges that any of the non-lethal methods require extra time and effort on the part of the rancher to maintain the defenses. "We understand that ranchers already have a lot to do," says Carroll. "But that’s what we’re dealing with."

According to the state ESA law, the wolves will remain under state protection until at least four breeding pairs are confirmed to be residing in Oregon. Although wolf sightings over the past few years have become more common in Oregon’s three northeast counties, ODFW does not have a current estimate as to how many wolves are actually residing in the state. People who see or know of wolf activity anywhere in Oregon are urged to contact ODFW via their Web site, dfw.state.or.us, or by telephone at 541/963-2138. — Jason Campbell, WLJ Correspondent