Courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
CANYON CITY — A Baker City man pleaded guilty Tuesday, Feb. 23, to a Class A violation of Taking a Threatened/Endangered Species for shooting a radio-collared wolf last October.
The plea hearing took place at the Grant County Justice Court in Canyon City before Judge Kathy Stinnett.
Brennon Witty, 26, formerly of John Day, had a companion charge of Hunting With a Centerfire Rifle With No Big Game Tag dismissed as part of a negotiated plea agreement.
The incident happened near Crane Prairie, south of Prairie City, while Witty was reportedly hunting coyotes on private land.
“Witty self-reported the shooting and cooperated with ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists) and OSP (Oregon State Police) game troopers in the investigation of the incident,” said Harney District Attorney Tim Colahan. “The offense Witty entered his guilty plea to was reduced to a Class A violation as part of the plea negotiations.”
Witty was fined $1,000, ordered to pay restitution of $1,000 to ODFW, and the firearm used in the incident, a Savage Arms .223 rifle with scope, was forfeited to the state.
A family member of Witty’s said Sharon Livingston of Long Creek came forward to pay Witty’s attorney fees — Witty was represented by Burns attorney Riccola Voigt.
“Brennon — I have to compliment him,” Livingston said. “I admire him for being truthful and forthcoming.”
The family member also said rancher Gail Enright of Mt. Vernon and the property owner where the wolf was shot each paid $200 toward Witty’s fines.
Wolves were listed under the state Endangered Species Act at the time of the shooting, and although the ODFW Commission on Nov. 9 removed wolves from the state list, it had no bearing on Witty’s case.
Colahan prosecuted the case at the request of the Grant County District Attorney who recused himself from the case based on his acquaintance with the Witty family.
Voigt said she would have liked to see Witty’s fines reduced, but during negotiations, “there were things we felt were more important, including removing the hunting license suspension, the violation treatment (having the charge reduced to a violation) and dismissal of the other count which was another A misdemeanor.”
She said the forfeiture of the rifle was something Witty offered in exchange for the district attorney’s stipulation to not request the hunting license suspension, which would have been suspended for 36 months.
“I agree with Mr. Colahan that Mr. Witty went above and beyond in cooperating,” Voigt said.
Under House Bill 4040 A, the legislature would ratify last year’s decision by state wildlife officials to delist wolves, effectively neutralizing a legal challenge filed by several environmental groups in the Oregon Court of Appeals.
The Senate will soon vote on HB 4040 A, having passed a key legislative committee on Feb. 23 and earlier having passed the House.
State wolf population grows
Oregon’s known wolf population continued to grow in 2015. The minimum Oregon wolf population is now 110 wolves, a 36 percent increase over the 2014 population.
ODFW documented 11 breeding pairs of wolves in 2015, up from nine last year. A breeding pair is an adult male and female wolf that produce at least two pups which survive through the end of the year. (Pups are born in mid-April each year.) Reproduction was confirmed in 14 groups of wolves, and 33 pups born in 2015 are known to have survived through Dec. 31. ODFW also documented three new pairs of wolves. Known wolf groups occurred in parts of Baker, Grant, Jackson, Klamath, Lake, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties.
The rate of depredation of livestock by wolves decreased in 2015 despite the increase in wolf population. ODFW investigations confirmed nine incidents of wolves killing livestock and two probable incidents. A total of 10 sheep, three calves and one working dog were killed by wolves, and another two calves and one lamb were injured. This is down from 11 confirmed incidents and 32 livestock (2 cattle and 30 sheep) lost last year.
While no wolves were killed by ODFW, agents or landowners due to livestock depredation, ODFW documented seven wolf mortalities in 2015. A five-month-old pup was found dead in the Catherine Pack rendezvous area and appeared to die of natural causes. One wolf that died had a rodent in its stomach and the wolf tested positive for a chemical that is poisonous to animals. The cause of the death of the Sled Springs breeding male and female found dead in August is unknown. Three wolves were illegally shot.
To see the full report or learn more about wolves, visit odfw.com/wolves.