Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife approved a kill order for two adult wolves from Wallowa County’s Harl Butte pack, which has been responsible for seven confirmed attacks on cattle in the past 13 months.
Ranchers in the area had asked ODFW to wipe out the pack, which numbered 10 at the end of 2016 and at least seven when counted in March. The department decided instead to kill two adults and then evaluate the situation.
“In this chronic situation, lethal control measures are warranted,” acting ODFW wolf coordinator Roblyn Brown said in a prepared statement. “We will use incremental removal to give the remaining wolves the opportunity to change their behavior or move out of the area.”
The wolves will be trapped or shot from the ground or air in the next two weeks, according to an ODFW news release.
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association said the order didn’t go far enough.
“As an organization, we are extremely disappointed that they are not taking out the entire pack with all the depredations that have occurred and all the work that has been done on the Oregon wolf plan,” Executive Director Jerome Rosa said in a prepared statement. “To not take the entire pack? This is code for our ranchers that cattle will continue to be killed.”
The association said dry summer weather caused the pack’s natural food source – deer and elk – to move higher into the mountains and made rancher’s cattle “easy targets.”
Cascadia Wildlands, a Eugene-based group, said it is “disgusted” the department will kill wolves. In March 2016, the department shot four wolves from the Imnaha Pack; the Harl Butte pack may include remnants of that pack and other wolves from the Imnaha and Snake River wildlife management units.
“It is becoming painfully obvious from every experience in Oregon and Washington that killing wolves leads to more conflict down the line and does not address the problem,” Cascadia legal director Nick Cady said in a prepared statement. “We are setting ourselves up for a perpetual cycle where we are throwing away public dollars and needlessly killing a still-recovering species.”
The Portland group Oregon Wild also criticized the kill order.
“If ODFW kills these wolves, it will demonstrate that Oregon has a failed wildlife agency and a broken wolf management plan,” Executive Director Sean Stevens said in a prepared statement. “It’s clear now that Gov. (Kate) Brown needs to step in and reform this failing agency so that the public can trust that its wildlife is being protected.”
In deciding to kill two wolves, the department determined livestock producers had taken proper non-lethal measures to deter attacks and hadn’t done anything to attract wolves to the livestock, such as leaving bone piles or carcasses.
Ranchers, their employees, a county range rider and a volunteer provided “daily human presence” in the area, ODFW said. One rancher in the area said the pack frequented an area that put them in the middle of several herds grazing by permit on public land.
On seven occasions in June and July, ranchers or the range rider hazed wolves that were chasing or were close to livestock. They chased wolves away by yelling, firing a pistol, shooting at them and riding a horse toward them, according to ODFW.
Ranch hands also spent the night with herds and kept stock dogs in horse trailers at night, as wolves are territorial and might be drawn to attack dogs. Some producers changed grazing practices, such as bunching cow-calf pairs in a herd so they could protect themselves. They also delayed pasture rotations to avoid moving into areas where wolves had recently been, according to ODFW.
Producers removed potential wolf “attractants” such as injured or sick cattle, taking them back to home ranches for treatment. A dead bull’s carcass was removed from an area near a pond where cattle were concentrated, according to ODFW.
The department first received a lethal control request from producers in October 2016 after a fourth confirmed depredation. ODFW turned it down at the time because cattle were being moved out of the grazing allotments. This time, cattle are expected to be grazing on public land until October and on private land until November. Brown, the ODFW acting coordinator, said there is a “substantial risk” livestock attacks would continue or escalate.