Zach Urness, Statesman Journal
Gray wolves only recently began returning to western Oregon, but there are increasing signs the small population of predators is no longer welcome.
Three collared wolves have been killed during the past year in southwest and southcentral Oregon, prompting multiple investigations and a total of $40,000 in reward money for information on the unnatural deaths.
The most recent victim was OR-25, a 4-year-old male that was found dead Oct. 29 near Fort Klamath in Sun Pass State Forest. He joined OR-33 and OR-28, collared wolves that have also been killed in the Klamath Falls area since last October.
The deaths are significant because western Oregon is home to only about 15 to 20 wolves, officials said.
It’s a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act to kill a gray wolf in the western two-thirds of Oregon, punishable by a $50,000 fine and a year in jail.
“This is an unfortunate situation and we are concerned about it,” said John Heil, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We’re going to work with our partners to try and find out what’s going on here.”
OR-25, who originally dispersed from the Imnaha Pack in northeastern Oregon, made headlines after roaming into California in 2016. One website even celebrated the arrival with the headline “Welcome OR-25: California’s Sexy New Lone Wolf!”
OR-25 returned to Oregon and while likely searching for a mate roamed mostly in the area north and east of Klamath Falls, reports from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said.
Details about how the wolf died were not released by the Fish and Wildlife service because of the “ongoing investigation,” officials said.
Wolves first began arriving in Oregon, from Idaho in the late 1990s. But it wasn’t until 2011 that the animals reached the state’s west side.
The first wolf to reach Oregon’s Cascade Range, OR-7, was celebrated as something of a folk hero, garnering international headlines as he roamed thousands of miles to find a mate.
OR-7 eventually put down roots in in southwest Oregon and is now head of the Rogue Pack, which has an estimated 12 members, by far the largest pack in western Oregon.
But as more wolves headed west, the transition hasn’t always been as smooth.
Last summer, OR-33, who’d followed OR-7’s path west, roamed almost within Ashland city limits. From June 10-12, the young wolf attacked and killed two goats and one lamb at a small livestock operation northeast of the city of 20,000.
“This wolf is acting like David Lee Roth,” Greg Roberts, a media personality in Southern Oregon said at the time. “I’ve had eight people in Ashland say that they’ve seen him around their property.”
A year later, OR-33 was shot, his carcass found about 20 miles northwest of Klamath Falls in Fremont-Winema National Forest.
The story was somewhat different for OR-28, a 3-year-old female wolf who’d just had a pup with a mate near Silver Lake.
While officials didn’t speculate about what was causing the incidents, it’s possible that an increased number of wolf attacks on livestock, including three blamed on OR-7’s Rogue Pack, could have eroded some public support.
Conservation groups bemoaned the recent trend, saying the number of wolves killed by humans in Oregon represented a serious problem.
Last week, a hunter claimed self-defense after shooting a wolf in northeastern Oregon.
“Considering the small number of wolves in Oregon, and even smaller number that have managed to disperse outside the northeast corner of the state, it should now be clear to state wildlife officials that illegal wolf killing represents an existential threat to recovering this native species,” said Arran Robertson, spokesman for Oregon Wild.
Details on three wolf killings:
OR-33 – Investigation open; a collared male was found dead April 23, 2017, about 20 miles northwest of Klamath Falls in Fremont-Winema National Forest. Cause of death was by gunshot. There is a $5,000 reward from Fish and Wildlife Service and an additional $10,000 dollars from nonprofit groups for information leading to the arrest or a criminal conviction of the person(s) responsible.
OR-28 – Investigation open; a collared female was found dead on Oct. 6, 2016, in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near Summer Lake, Oregon. Cause of death not released. There is a $5,000 reward from the USFWS and an additional $15,000 from conservation groups for information leading to the arrest or a criminal conviction of the person(s) responsible.
OR-25 – Investigation open; a collared male was found dead Oct. 29, 2017, near Fort Klamath in Sun Pass State Forest. Cause of death is not released. There is a $5,000 reward from the USFWS.