Collared wolf killed in Oregon, ranchers worried about future

Oct 8, 2010

Tension surrounding the developing wolf situation in northeast Oregon is bound to escalate after the Sept. 30 discovery that a male wolf wearing a radio-collar had been shot near the town of Troy, in Wallowa County. Both U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) declined to comment on the shooting.

Since the August relisting of the wolf as a federally endangered species, USFWS has regained authority over management of the wolves, and is responsible for carrying out any necessary investigations. Robert Romero, USFWS special agent, did indicate that there was an investigation in progress, but declined to add any specifics, or even officially confirm the shooting.

Wallowa County Sheriff Fred Steen was able to confirm that the shooting took place, and its approximate location and time.

"Thursday, Sept. 30, I was advised that I needed to go look at another dead calf that had possibly been killed by wolves," Steen said. "While I was at the scene looking at that, I was notified by [the government trapper for] Wildlife Services … that he’d been made aware by U.S. Fish and Wildlife that they were enroute to the northern part of Wallowa County to look at a wolf that had possibly been shot … just west of the town of Troy, OR.

"Then I was advised a couple different times via phone conversation that they had confirmed that the wolf had been killed and shot. There was a bullet hole in the animal. It was a male collared wolf … I was told that it had been shot earlier that day, is what they were believing at the time."

A report by Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) stated that the wolf was a 2-year-old male who had been equipped this summer with a radio collar to keep track of the Wenaha pack’s movements. The OPB report indicated that the wolf is not the pack’s alpha male.

The investigation is being carried out by federal authorities. Steen emphasized that at this time, he is not involved in the investigation and, therefore, does not have any specific information regarding the incident.

"I’m assuming that the investigation will be done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents either with the assistance or without the assistance of the Oregon State Police," Steen said. "In Oregon currently, the USFWS has the authority … over these wolves that are here."

Ranchers meanwhile continue to struggle with wolf depredation of livestock. On Sept. 22, one week prior to the shooting, another wolf kill was confirmed on Bob Lathrop’s ranch near Zummwalt Prairie. Denny Johnson, in the Divide region of the Imnaha unit, discovered a steer that was confirmed as a wolf kill on Sept. 30, the same day as the dead wolf was discovered. Both ranches are thirty to forty miles distant from the site of the wolf shooting.

The two recent calf kills bring the number of wolf depredations confirmed by USFWS in Wallowa County to 11 for 2010.

Rod Childers, chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association Wolf Committee, emphasized that although ranchers have serious concerns about the direction of Oregon’s wolf management plan that remain unresolved, the recent shooting is entirely counterproductive to these efforts.

Childers pointed out that the information gathered from the wolves’ radio collars is used by ranchers to inform them of the position and movements of the wolves.

Childers explained, "One of the things that ODFW and US Fish [and Wildlife] has shared with us is this telemetry information. [Having a wolf shot] actually hurts us, because they were sharing that information with us … [W]e were able to either send the range rider in the Imnaha area to … where the wolves were last located, or were able to notify the producer, so they can go out and check on their cattle. It’s really been a benefit to have that."

Childers urged people not to jump to any conclusions about who might have shot the wolf. Ranchers, he emphasized, support the process of public comment and participation, and were active in the recent revision of the Oregon wolf management plan, which was approved Oct. 1.

Whoever shot the wolf, Childers commented, clearly did not have ranchers’ interests in mind.

Frustration has been mounting over the wolf issue following the August relisting of the grey wolf in U.S. District Court. Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the 2009 USFWS delisting of the wolves in Montana, Idaho, and parts of Oregon and Washington was in violation of the Endangered Species Act because wolves cannot be delisted in these states while they remain listed in Wyoming.

Wolves were not delisted in Wyoming because, at the time of delisting last year, USFWS did not deem Wyoming’s wolf management plan sufficient for maintaining a viable population.

Yet thriving populations of wolves in these states have created pressing management issues, in particular involving depredation of big game and livestock. The original recovery goal for the region was 300 wolves; currently, the Northern Rocky Mountain states are managing over 1,700 of the predators. At this stage, the states believe that they are best able to manage their own wolf populations. Wildlife managers in Idaho and Montana permitted a wolf hunt last year to regulate numbers. But despite the burgeoning numbers of wolves, the federal relisting puts effective management tools such as hunting out of reach.

On Oct. 1, Idaho was joined by the Montana State Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the Montana and Idaho Farm Bureau federations, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, the National Rifle Association, and Safari Club International in filing an appeal of Molloy’s decision in 9th Circuit Court. In addition, the federal Department of Justice has filed a notice of appeal on behalf of USFWS, reserving their right to appeal Molloy’s decision in the future.

But an appeal of Molloy’s decision could take years. In the meantime, western lawmakers have introduced legislation in an attempt to have the wolf congressionally delisted. Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana introduced a bill to have the wolf federally delisted in Montana and Idaho. A separate bill, the Returning Wolf Management to the States Act (S. 3919), has been submitted by senators from Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, recommending the delisting of the wolf throughout the Northern Rocky Mountain region.

Said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-WY, "States are completely capable of managing wolves on their own without the federal government micro-managing them at every turn. This bill would finally free our state, ranchers and wildlife from the shackles of federal mismanagement." — Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent