Contributed photo/Oregon Cattlemen’s Association
State wildlife officials will allow a northeast Oregon rancher to kill one wolf on privately owned pasture near Joseph Creek in Wallowa County following a string of gruesome attacks on livestock.
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife issued a kill permit June 21 for RL Cattle Company, based in Enterprise, Ore., after confirming the wolf depredations June 13 and 14.
According to the investigative reports, a wolf — or wolves — injured three calves in three days on the same private pasture within an area of known wolf activity in the Chesnimnus Unit.
ODFW counted three wolves in the area at the end of 2017. None are wearing a radio tracking collar. It is not certain whether the wolves are remnants of the Chesnimnus pack or new animals that have moved into the territory.
Under Phase III of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, ODFW may consider killing wolves in Eastern Oregon found to prey on livestock at least twice. The agency last issued a kill permit in April for two wolves from the Pine Creek pack in Baker County.
But first, ranchers must demonstrate they have tried using non-lethal deterrents and cannot leave bone piles or carcasses that would otherwise attract wolves. In this case, RL Cattle routinely monitored for wolves, maintained a human presence around cattle and removed injured livestock from the pasture.
In his letter to ODFW requesting a kill permit, owner Rod Childers said the impact to his business far exceeds injured or missing animals.
“This harassment of my cattle has caused a change in their demeanor making them more difficult to handle, nearly causing injury to myself while sorting,” Childers wrote. “Additionally, these wolf problems are causing great problems in my ability to utilize my spring range effectively.”
The permit issued by ODFW extends not only to the pasture, but also an adjacent public forest allotment. It expires July 10, when Childers plans to remove his cattle from the pasture.
The action has stirred debate about wolf management in Oregon at a time when ODFW is in the midst of updating its wolf plan, which was last updated in 2010. Since then, wolves were removed from the state endangered species list in 2015.
The species remains federally protected west of highways 395, 78 and 95.
George Rollins, a Baker County rancher and Eastern Oregon wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said the group is advocating wolf management zones with population targets, which would open the door to more lethal control and, possibly, hunting.
“These management zones would be established, and with local decision making, the number of wolves can be managed so that we can reduce potential conflicts,” Rollins said.
Environmental groups, however, oppose killing any wolves, arguing the overall population is still too small and fragile. Oregon had 124 officially documented wolves at the end of 2017 — an 11 percent increase over 2016.
Furthermore, Sean Stevens, executive director of Oregon Wild, said the next iteration of the wolf plan should have stronger requirements allowing non-lethal deterrents the chance to work before rushing to kill wolves.
“According to ODFW’s own reports, depredations appear to have stopped after non-lethal deterrents were put in place. Yet a week after the last conflict with wolves, ODFW is issuing a kill permit anyway,” Stevens said. “This permit is unnecessary. It’s the latest proof that the wolf plan needs to be strengthened, not weakened.”
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission indefinitely postponed its vote on the wolf plan revision earlier this year. ODFW recently hired a professional mediator, Debra Nudelman of Portland, to work with groups to reach a broader consensus. Those meetings have yet to be announced.
In addition to management zones, Rollins said OCA wants to see at least one wolf in each pack fitted with a GPS tracking collar, and local agencies — such as county sheriffs — given greater control over wolf-livestock investigations.
“These people investigate murders and robberies and everything else,” Rollins said. “My goodness, they should be able to do a wolf investigation.”
Derek Broman, state carnivore biologist, has taken the lead on the wolf plan revision since Russ Morgan retired last year. He said the plan may be ready to present to the Fish and Wildlife Commission as early as September, and possibly adopted before the end of the year.
“We feel like we’re in a good spot,” Broman said. “We’re still seeing increases in wolf numbers. Last year, we saw a decrease in depredations. ... We still have a pretty good plan to be working with.”