HALFWAY, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shot two more wolves from the Pine Creek pack Wednesday morning in Baker County, following the latest in a string of attacks on livestock.
The most recent depredations were confirmed Sunday, April 15 and Monday, April 16 at Pine Creek Ranch in Halfway, Ore. The pack has now preyed on livestock five times in April, killing four calves and injuring another six at two different ranches roughly 5-6 miles apart.
The spate of incidents prompted the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association to ask ODFW to kill more wolves from the Pine Creek pack to prevent further livestock losses.
“The wolves are being seen on the valley floor, and that’s what’s really disconcerting folks,” said George Rollins, a Baker County rancher and co-chairman of the OCA wolf committee for Eastern Oregon. “So many people have seen them now, it’s like daily sightings.”
ODFW quickly followed through with the request, shooting an uncollared yearling female and adult male from a helicopter as the wolves were spotted on private land where the latest depredations occurred. Wildlife officials previously shot one yearling female from the Pine Creek pack on April 10 as part of a separate lethal take permit.
OCA had asked to kill all wolves in the Pine Creek pack, with Rollins stating that incremental take has not proven effective in changing the animals’ behavior.
“They just keep coming back,” he said. “They are not following the herds of elk that are on the low hills area.”
Earlier this year, University of Wisconsin researchers released a study suggesting that government killing of wolves may benefit one farmer or rancher, but by fracturing the pack it could actually increase the risk of predation at neighboring farms up to three miles away.
In this case, ODFW authorized killing two wolves from the Pine Creek pack after back-to-back attacks on private land leased by rancher Chad DelCurto. Nine days later, the pack began preying on livestock again at Pine Creek Ranch, about 5-6 miles away.
Environmental groups are staunchly opposed to killing any wolves in Oregon, arguing the population is still too small and fragile. ODFW recently reported there were at least 124 wolves statewide at the end of 2017, an 11 percent increase over 2016.
Conservationists also point to four cases of wolves that were illegally killed in 2017. Out of 13 total wolf deaths throughout the year, 12 were human-caused.
Under Phase III of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, ODFW can authorize killing wolves that make a habit of preying on livestock in Eastern Oregon. The species remains federally protected west of highways 395, 78 and 95.
Local ranchers had been using non-lethal deterrents, according to ODFW, including burying bone piles, removing dead cows, patrolling cattle from daylight to darkness and moving the animals off of pastures where the latest wolf attacks occurred.
“It’s really disrupting (ranchers’) schedules, both for turning cattle out and getting spring work done,” Rollins said.
Jerome Rosa, executive director for the OCA, said incremental take of wolves will not solve the problems ranchers face, and actually leads to packs becoming more aggressive.
“It’s a no-win situation,” Rosa said.
The Pine Creek pack now includes five known wolves — after the three that were shot — occupying territory mostly south of the Imnaha River and east of Halfway to the Idaho state line. In 2017, the pack produced at least five pups that survived to the end of the year.