By Andrew Theen
Oregon wildlife officials will kill two adult wolves in Wallowa County this month at the request of ranchers who say the animals or their packmates have preyed on cattle on public and private lands for more than a year.
The state announced plans for the killings Thursday afternoon. Department of Fish & Wildlife managers said the state will not target specific animals. Instead, officials will remove two adult uncollared animals in the Harl Butte pack sometimes in the next two weeks.
In March, state biologists counted seven wolves in the Harl Butte pack, and in December the pack had an estimated 10 animals. State officials say they’ve documented wolf attacks on seven cattle in the past 13 months, including three cattle kills.
The Harl Butte killings will occur in the same area where state officials removed four animals from the Imnaha Pack in March 2016. The Imnaha Pack is one of the state’s oldest wolf packs and the ancestral home of OR7, the state’s most famous wolf.
Environmental groups immediately decried the killings as unnecessary.
“Slaughtering wolves will never stop conflicts with livestock,” Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. The agency should focus on protecting and recovering the state’s wolves “rather than putting choppers up in the air to protect the state’s 1.3 million cattle.”
In 2015, Oregon removed wolves from the state’s Endangered Species list, but the animals remain on the federal list and are protected in Western Oregon and areas west of Highways 395, 78 and 95. In Northeast Oregon the animals are managed under the state’s wolf plan, and lethal action can be approved if animals are observed repeatedly killing cattle or other livestock.
Roblyn Brown, the state’s wolf coordinator, said in a statement that the agency determined killing the Harl Butte wolves was a necessary move after extensive non-lethal attempts to scare the animals away proved unsuccessful.
“On seven different occasions in June and July 2017, wolves have been hazed away from cattle by yelling, firing a pistol, shooting at, walking towards, and riding horseback towards the wolves,” the agency said in a statement.
Oregon Wild Executive Director Sean Stevens slammed the state’s decision in a statement.
Oregon Fish and Wildlife officials described the state’s gray wolf population as healthy and expanding in an annual report release Tuesday, but population estimates show minimal growth.
“If ODFW kills these wolves, it will demonstrate that Oregon has a failed wildlife agency and a broken wolf management plan,” he said. “It’s clear now that Governor Brown needs to step in and reform this failing agency so that the public can trust that its wildlife is being protected.”
Steve Pedery, conservation director at the nonprofit, said the state isn’t trying hard enough to scare the animals away rather than kill them.
“This should always be a last resort rather than a first option,” Pedery said in an interview. Oregon Wild is concerned that, after last year’s authorized killings, the state will once again remove animals in an area recognized by the state as a zone of “known wolf activity.”
“They need to have the same interest in protecting wolves that they do for mule deer and elk,” Pedery said.
Michelle Dennehy, the wildlife agency’s spokeswoman, said nonlethal tactics are always the first option.
She noted that the ranchers requested the state remove the entire pack of animals, and that request was denied.
Earlier this year, the agency’s annual wolf report estimated the statewide population was 112 animals, just two more than was observed in 2015.
But Dennehy said removing two animals will not have a bearing on the state’s overall wolf population, which she said is stable.
The most recent request to remove wolves came last week from the Marr Flat Grazing Association in nearby Imnaha, according to a fish and wildlife report providing background on the matter.
Wildlife officials say they will remove the animals by either trapping them or shooting the wolves from the air.
Cattle are expected to continue grazing on the public and private land in the area “for several months,” increasing the risk for conflict.
“Based on the level of non-lethal measures already being used and the fact that wolves are likely to be in the presence of cattle in this area for several more months, there is a substantial risk that depredation will continue or escalate,” Brown said.
If cattle continue being attacked after two animals are removed, the state “may resume” more lethal actions, Brown said.