June 19–The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed two recent incidents of wolves killing and injuring livestock in Umatilla County.
On June 13, four ewes and three lambs were found dead, one lamb was missing and a number of others were injured in a sheep pen near Pendleton. ODFW investigators found bite wounds consistent with attacks by one or more wolves.
That morning, the unidentified ranch owner had observed a single uncollared wolf, likely a yearling, feeding on a carcass. GPS tracking collar data from an adult male from the Umatilla River wolf pack proved that there was at least one other wolf in the immediate vicinity during those early morning hours.
A few days earlier, a cow had been attacked and severely injured in a pasture less than a mile away. GPS data showed that two Umatilla River pack wolves were in the pasture around the time of the attack.
“One of the things we’re very proud of is that when we hear of an incident, we try to enter into every one of these investigations objectively,” states Russ Morgan, wolf program coordinator for ODFW. While GPS collars can place a specific wolf in the vicinity, this alone is not enough to implicate the wolf in the depredation. “It is an evidence based process, not a matter of opinion or belief. We maintain that objectivity throughout, and that’s something we will continue to strive for.”
ODFW is also coordinating with local livestock producers to reduce risk of further attacks. “We’ve been working with the producers closely, and have already implemented additional non-lethal deterrents,” such as fencing, guard animals or alarm systems, says Morgan.
Gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain region, including the Umatilla and seven other packs in eastern Oregon, were removed from the federal endangered species list and management was transferred to the states. Gray wolves are considered endangered under Oregon law, and the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan sets out rules about how to deal with wolves when they prey on livestock.
When a suspected wolf attack occurs, ODFW officials investigate to confirm that wolves were indeed the culprit, to identify which wolf or wolves were involved and to determine whether ranchers involved took appropriate precautions to deter attacks. Only if a specific wolf is implicated in four “qualifying incidents of depredation” within a six month period can the ODFW decide to kill a wolf, and then only if “chronic depredation” is likely to continue.
After being eradicated from the state in the 1940s, wolves began to cross the border from Idaho in the 2000s, and Oregon’s first new breeding pair was confirmed in 2008. The population has since grown to 64 wolves in eight distinct packs. The state has legally killed four wolves: two near Baker City in 2009, and two from the Imnaha pack during 2010-2011.