Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed this week that another cow was killed by wolves from the Imnaha pack over the weekend. The yearling heifer was found dead on private land in Wallowa County.
This brings the total number of confirmed livestock losses by Imnaha pack wolves to 19 since spring 2010.
It is the fifth confirmed livestock loss to wolves since an Oct. 5, 2011, court-ordered stay ended ODFW plans to kill two wolves from the Imnaha pack in an attempt to stop further livestock losses.
While the pack is continuing a pattern of chronic livestock depredation begun in spring 2010, ODFW wolf coordinator Russ Morgan characterizes the recent kills as a “significant” change in the pack’s behavior. Previously the pack killed mostly smaller calves, but now it has shifted to larger-sized yearling and adult cows. The timing is also new, as depredation by this pack has not been previously confirmed during the period October through December.
“The latest incident reaffirms that the pack is in a pattern of chronic depredation, which we expect to continue,” said Morgan. “While we believe the appropriate response is lethal removal of these problem wolves under the chronic depredation rule, that option is off the table due to litigation.”
The wolves targeted the ranch twice over two days. The cattle involved had recently been gathered and placed into a holding pasture near the main ranch house, as they were scheduled to be hauled on Monday. On Sunday morning, the landowner discovered that the cattle had been run through the fence and the yearling heifer was found dead a half mile away. The cattle were returned to the pasture, only to be scattered again by Monday morning. GPS radio-collar data shows that the alpha male of the Imnaha wolf pack was present at the site of the depredation and was also in the area when the cows were scattered the next day. Other wolves from the pack were likely with the alpha male, but their VHF radio-collars don’t allow such close location tracking.
The alpha male wolf was in remote country about five miles from the pasture the evening before the Sunday morning attack, yet by 2 a.m. he was only about 300 yards from the main ranch house, on the way to the pasture with cattle.
This rancher had taken a variety of non-lethal measures on different areas of his large ranch over the past two years. He had installed barrier fences with fladry (flagged fencing that can deter wolves) on parts of his ranch and has used a radio-activated guard device that makes noise when a radio-collared wolf approaches. The rancher had also increased monitoring of his livestock and has used a radio receiver to detect when a collared wolf was nearby.
“This is a good example of a situation where the landowner had done everything right,” said Morgan. “I don’t think there are other measures that could have been reasonably taken in this case, so it is a very frustrating situation for livestock producers and wildlife managers.”
ODFW continues to work with area landowners on non-lethal ways to avoid wolf-livestock problems. For example, ODFW sends twice-daily text messages about wolves’ locations to area livestock producers. A range rider funded by ODFW and Defenders of Wildlife has monitored the wolves’ location in relation to livestock.
Besides non-lethal measures, ODFW has also provided some ranchers with permits to kill a wolf they catch “in the act of biting, wounding or killing” livestock or with permits that allow them to haze wolves. The chance to use these permits is rare because wolves typically avoid people and usually attack livestock at night. None of these permits issued by ODFW has ever been used, again because it is very rare for a person to actually be present when a wolf is “in the act” of attacking livestock.
This landowner and others that have lost livestock animals to wolves are likely to be compensated for their losses. Earlier this year, the Oregon State Legislature and Gov. John Kitzhaber directed the Oregon Department of Agriculture to create a wolf compensation program. The program is expected to be in effect in early 2012. Ranchers that lost livestock since early September 2011 (when a compensation program funded by Defenders of Wildlife ended) will be eligible for retroactive compensation.