Federal officials remove problem wolves in Oregon

Sep 11, 2009

Federal officials remove problem wolves in Oregon

Two juvenile wolves that have been killing livestock in Oregon’s Baker County have finally been removed, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). According to officials, the two problem wolves were shot and killed from a helicopter by representatives of the USDA’s Wildlife Services division on the morning of Sept. 5. These are the first wolves to be killed in Oregon as a result of livestock depredation.

Western Livestock Journal

"It’s unfortunate that we got to this step," said Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator. "But these wolves continued to kill livestock despite our many efforts to keep them out of trouble. We cannot allow chronic losses to continue."

Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative for the Defenders of Wildlife, agreed that little else could have been done to prevent the killings.

"It’s an unfortunate situation," said Stone, adding, "ODFW really handled this by the book in terms of Oregon’s Wolf Management Plan."

The state’s plan, which governs the handling of wolves in Oregon’s northeast corner, allows wolves to be killed only after other non-lethal methods have met with failure. Without a permit, a rancher may not shoot a wolf even if it is observed in the act of killing livestock. Wolves found in other parts of the state remain under federal endangered species protections.

In order to comply with the state law, Jacobs was provided with flagged fencing, or fladry, and an electronic box that was supposed to emit loud noises when the male wolf’s radio collar was sensed close by. In addition, state and federal officials hazed the wolves away using aircraft and attempted to drive them off with noisemaking devices known as "cracker shells." For further protection, Jacobs agreed to double pen his sheep, keep them close to home at night, and continue his use of guard dogs. Area ranchers were also instructed to bury dead livestock immediately in order to avoid attracting the predators.

Despite all of these measures, the wolves still managed to repeatedly kill or injure area livestock. As Jacobs pointed out, proximity to people also seemed to have no effect as the last killings occurred in a pen adjacent to his machine shop.

Although the official death toll rests at 29 head, it may be impossible to determine how many animals were killed outright, or died from injuries inflicted by the wolves. According to Jacobs, he is still missing several lambs for unknown reasons, and his neighbors have horses that have suffered attacks. In addition, there is no telling what the wolves were doing after they were hazed away from populated areas.

"I think there’s going to be some guys coming out of the mountains this fall that are going to have some calves missing," said Jacobs.

Ranchers who do find themselves in that situation likely stand little chance of recovering their losses. Although the Defenders of Wildlife continues to pay replacement costs for animals killed by wolves in Oregon, the killings must be confirmed by the government. This cannot happen if there is not a carcass to inspect. Furthermore, restitution that is paid out is based solely on pounds of animal, without regard to age, lineage, or breeding status. As many ranchers have pointed out, this is often not adequate to cover actual losses.

Although Jacobs is happy to see the saga come to an end, he does have some reservations about how the situation was handled.

"Thank God it’s over with," he said. "But it could have been over with a long time ago, and I’d have eight or 10 more sheep."

According to Jacobs, there were several livestock deaths that ODFW did not confirm as wolf kills, many of which he felt warranted closer inspection. He said that it often seemed like ODFW officials were working against him, rather than with him, to protect his livestock. He also stated that after his last depredation loss, he called the federal Wildlife Service’s offices in La Grande, OR, directly, hoping to achieve better results.

As advice to others in his position, he had this to say; "You’re the guilty one, you’re the one with sheep on the range. You’re the one that has to defend yourself; you need to take pictures."

He added that as the situation progressed, he had collected much of his own photographic evidence, as well as plaster casts of footprints. He finished by pointing out that under the law, "A wolf is not a wolf until it has been photographed and its fingerprints taken. Until then, it’s just a large canine." — Jason Campbell, WLJ Correspondent

first reported on these wolves last April when they were found to be responsible for killing 23 lambs belonging to Keating Valley rancher Curt Jacobs, as well as a calf belonging to Jacob’s neighbor, Tik Moore. At that time, one of the wolves, a male, was captured and subsequently released after being fitted with a radio collar. The other wolf, a smaller female, was also seen on that occasion. A total of three more incidences were documented following those events. The last killings, which occurred on Aug. 27 and Aug. 28, resulted in the deaths of three more lambs and a goat, all of which belonged to Jacobs. It was this last event that finally led the Wildlife Service and ODFW to the conclusion that permanent removal of the wolves would be necessary in order to prevent further damage.