The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has authorized killing two more wolves in northeast Oregon, this time from the Meacham pack in Umatilla County following a string of four attacks on cattle over the last eight days.
All four attacks happened to calves owned by the same livestock producer on the same private pasture in the Meacham area east of Pendleton. The latest incident was confirmed Saturday, Aug. 19 by ODFW.
On Thursday, the agency approved killing two wolves from the Meacham pack to limit further predation. Wildlife officials have already killed three wolves this summer from the Harl Butte pack in Wallowa County after repeated conflicts with cattle.
Curt Melcher, ODFW director, said it is important to limit wolf-livestock problems, and lethal control is a needed tool when non-lethal deterrents are not enough.
“While it’s disheartening for some people to see ODFW killing wolves, our agency is called to manage wildlife in a manner consistent with other land uses, and to protect the social and economic interests of all Oregonians while it conserves gray wolves,” Melcher said.
The recent decisions to kill wolves in Umatilla and Wallowa counties have been controversial on both sides of the debate, for very different reasons. Conservation groups criticize ODFW for signing off on kill orders while at the same time lacking transparency and dragging its feet on a long overdue update of the state’s Wolf Management and Conservation Plan.
Ranchers, on the other hand, want to see ODFW kill entire packs that are causing them trouble on the range.
ODFW was asked to remove the entire Meacham pack, which had seven members at the end of 2016. Instead, the agency has opted for a more conservative, incremental approach.
“I am authorizing only incremental take in an effort to take as few wolves as possible while still addressing wolf-livestock conflict,” Melcher said. “Following these actions, the situation will be reassessed to see if the goal of reducing depredations has been achieved.”
The Meacham pack was first identified in 2014 and is believed to have at least four pups this year. No pups will be killed as part of this order.
ODFW staff may kill the wolves, or the livestock producer has also been issued what’s known as a “limited duration wolf kill permit.” That permit allows the producer to kill two adult or sub-adult wolves without having to first catch the predators in the act of biting, wounding or killing cattle — in other words, they can be shot on sight.
The permit is limited to the 4,000-acre timbered pasture where livestock predation has occurred. It still requires the producer to use non-lethal deterrents and remove all attractants such as bone piles.
Roblyn Brown, ODFW acting wolf coordinator, said the producer has already spent years implementing extensive non-lethal controls and working to deter wolves on the landscape.
“Unfortunately, this year their increasing preventative efforts have not been successful in limiting wolf depredation,” Brown said. “We believe lethal control is warranted in this situation, but this action will only be in place as long as cattle are still at risk. We will use incremental removal and lethal control activities will be stopped as soon as the cattle are removed from the pasture.”
Normally, the pasture would be used until October. However, 90 percent of the cattle have already been moved, according to ODFW. The producer has also acted quickly to remove dead livestock or weak animals that could attract wolves, and employed a range rider five days a week to monitor the pasture.
Finally, for the past two years, the producer has chosen not to use their sheep grazing allotment on national forestland adjacent to the pasture to avoid potential wolf conflicts.
Todd Nash, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and a Wallowa County rancher, said ODFW is being disingenuous about resolving wolf attacks by only killing only a few wolves, and not the entire pack.
“In order to be effective, you have to take out at least half the pack population, and in most cases the entire pack will need to be taken out,” Nash said.
Nash added that the increased density of wolves in northeast Oregon means that certain non-lethal tools are no longer effective, since ranchers cannot haze wolves away from one area without pushing them into another pack’s territory where they are not welcome.
“There are places wolves are not going to be successful, and this is probably one of them,” he said.
ODFW noted it has documented four new wolf pairs raising pups in northeast Oregon this summer, including one new pair south of Interstate 84 in the Starkey and Ukiah wildlife management units.
However, conservation groups are quick to point out Oregon’s overall wolf population of 112 known animals at the end of 2016, which was largely stagnant over the previous year.
Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, blasted ODFW’s plan to kill wolves from the Meacham pack, even after most of the affected cattle have been moved off the pasture.
“That doesn’t sound like a decision to conserve wolves or protect livestock,” Weiss said. “That just sounds like revenge.”
Sean Stevens, director of Oregon Wild, said ODFW has no business killing wolves while working under an outdated wolf plan. He also said the agency is lacking transparency and clarity when it comes to decisions on lethal take.
“In this instance, the livestock owner could be doing everything possible, but we just don’t know,” Stevens said. “I think it’s a bad omen for Oregon wolf recovery.”