MT. VERNON - Investigating wolf kills is like a real-life segment of "CSI."
"Wolves create a lot of damage. They have big, big, big bite marks. They bite with 800 pounds per square inch. You're gonna be surprised by how much damage can be done by a single wolf," said Rick Williamson, a wildlife services specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services.
Williamson, who has investigated predator-attack scenes for 15 years in Idaho, spoke last Saturday, Oct. 16, at the community hall in Mt. Vernon to a gathering of law enforcement officers and ranchers. The meeting, called by the Grant County Sheriff's Department and Grant County Stockgrowers, drew people from Grant and neighboring counties.
He shared a checklist that law enforcement officers use in investigating cases, saying that "rock-solid evidence" and a thoroughly researched case are needed to prove a wolf kill before a case can be confirmed.
He also provided further details on the depredation impacts created by wolves, comparing them with those of cougar, coyote or bobcat.
Representatives of other agencies involved with wolves were also on hand for the meeting to answer questions.
Already, law enforcement and stockgrowers are dealing with wolf issues northeast of Grant County, in Wallowa County. Two wolf packs have been documented there.
"There's been wolf activity in Wallowa County, there's been wolf activity in Grant County," said John Stephenson, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in La Grande.
A federal judge recently ruled that the Rocky Mountain gray wolves should again be listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Wolves also are protected under a state endangered species act in Oregon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with investigating kills by wolves.
Oregon's wolf management plan calls for a compensation program to reimburse stockgrowers whose animals were confirmed to have been killed by wolves.
The USFWS is appealing the court decision to restore federal ESA protection for the wolf, said Stephenson.
"We want the responsibility turned back to the state," he said.
Craig Ely, regional supervisor for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, discussed his agency's work with the two wolf packs in the Wallowas.
With the wolf's relisting, officials are developing a contact tree for responding to incidents, should they occur in Grant County. Because USFWS and Wildlife Services offices are in La Grande, local officers would likely respond to incidents until the federal officers can reach the scene, said Mike Slater, district Wildlife Services supervisor. Acknowledging rapid deterioration of evidence, officials aim for a 24-hour response time.
The agencies are also working on a new protocol regarding coordination of response.
"I want to be called," said Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer, who considers livestock predation "a private property issue." Palmer said that incidents should be reported by calling 911, as the first step.
"Even if someone witnessed a kill, we need to still see the evidence," said Stephenson. Eyewitness accounts and photographs are also part of the query.
Anyone reporting an incident is urged to cover a carcass with a tarp or emergency space blanket, weighting it down with rocks. It is important to protect the scene from contamination or degradation by keeping onlookers out, said Williamson.
He said clues and indicators of wolf predation include:
? Large amount of flesh damage, bite marks, bruising, hemorraging, 2-inch spacing between the two front teeth.
? Broken spine or large bones such as the femur.
? Deep, puncturing claw marks and scratches noting the presence of an attached dew claw.
? Bites at the neck, and at the base of the tail, with the tail possibly pulled off.
? Evidence that an animal was dragged; presence of blood spray; large attack/struggle site; fresh tracks, scat and hair left at the scene.
Distinctive wolf pawprints, he said, have pear-shaped pads and claw points. With an adult wolf, a quarter coin can rest on each of the pads.
A wolf's strides are long, Williamson said, averaging 65-70 inches, compared to 38 inches for mountain lions.
In the strides, a feline's feet are offset during the gait, while those of canines are even, he added.
Several citizens attending the meeting voiced disapproval of the wolf's ESA listing, and the severe penalties for shooting one.
"It's political from the top down," said Sharon Livingston, a Long Creek cattle rancher.
Grant County Commissioner Boyd Britton told agency officials he realized they have "a job to do."
John Day rancher Ken Holliday expressed disappointment that ranchers have not been compensated in several instances he knows of. In one instance, witnesses, because they had been consuming alcohol, gave varying accounts, Holliday said.
Stephenson said that in a threatening situation, it is permissible for people to use "non-injurious harassment" to scare away the animals.
However, it is illegal to harm a wolf in any way, even if it is seen attacking livestock.