By Mark Freeman For the Tidings
A collared gray wolf blamed for a three-day livestock killing spree east of Ashland in June 2016 was illegally shot dead in western Klamath County sometime before last spring, and federal officials are asking the public to help solve the case.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday announced the death of wolf OR-33 after a recent necropsy at the service’s Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland matched DNA from the carcass to DNA banked from OR-33 when it was collared in 2015 by state wildlife biologists.
The carcass was found April 23, about 20 miles northwest of Klamath Falls on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, according to the service. It was identified only as a canid at the time, service spokesman Brent Lawrence said.
It was heavily decomposed and, although it sported a GPS collar, investigators had to determine whether it was a wolf carcass and its cause of death before opening a criminal investigation, Lawrence said.
Fish and Wildlife Service agents received that confirmation in an email Monday from the forensics lab, Lawrence said.
“We just recently confirmed it was a wolf, and it was that wolf,” Lawrence said Wednesday. “We had to know if it was a wolf and a wild wolf, not a captive wolf or a hybrid, before we opened our investigation.”
The necropsy determined it died from gunshot wounds, but Lawrence declined to be more specific because the case remains under investigation.
It is a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act to kill a gray wolf, which is listed as endangered in the western two-thirds of Oregon.
The shooting is also a violation of Oregon wildlife laws. Oregon State Police and the federal service are working together on the investigation, and investigators have offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of OR-33′s killers.
OR-33 was blamed for killing two goats, one sheep and injuring a third sheep on the nights of June 9-11, 2016, in the lower Grizzly Peak area east of Ashland. GPS coordinates from OR-33′s collar showed he had been in the area during that period, then promptly left Grizzly Peak after an eight-day stay, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife records show.
FWS biologists used flagged fences and lights to deter any more predation, and those eventually were taken down.
A similar predation on Feb. 23, 2016, in the Swan Lake area east of the Cascades was also blamed on OR-33 because, like in the lower Grizzly Peak cases, he was traveling alone and was the only known wolf in the area, according to ODFW reports.
As his famous cousin OR-7 did earlier, OR-33 dispersed from northeastern Oregon’s Imnaha Pack in 2015, venturing through the Columbia Basin and southern Blue Mountains before heading south and popping up in Klamath and Jackson counties in February 2016, according to ODFW.
From then through June 2015, OR-33 traveled largely in Klamath and Jackson counties, as well as slivers of Lake and Douglas counties, during which time he was deemed responsible for two livestock kills.
GPS coordinates from his collar allowed state wildlife biologists to pencil out OR-33′s so-called “Area of Known Wolf Activity,” which included lands right up to the east Ashland foothills and around Emigrant Lake, according to ODFW.
Since his known area overlapped with Keno wolves, biologists expected him possibly to move on in search of a mate. But his GPS collar failed in August 2016, according to ODFW. He was seen outside the area during fall 2016, but the report does not state where.
In April’s most recent statewide wolf report, his status was listed as unknown.
Anyone with information about this case should call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 503-682-6131, or Oregon State Police Tip Line at 800-452-7888. Callers may remain anonymous.