The decision to kill two more wolves for preying on livestock could mean the end of the first Oregon wolf pack to successfully breed since efforts began to restore the predators.
State wolf coordinator Russ Morgan said Monday that despite this setback, restoration of wolves is moving forward, with individuals striking out for new territories, and the newly formed Walla Walla pack in Umatilla County breeding its first two pups.
“Recovery has a number of barometers,” Morgan said from his office in LaGrande, Ore. “If we look at dispersal in the overall area in Oregon, it’s clearly expanding.
“The lethal control actions we are involved with now may have the effect of slowing recovery. But it is also tied to recovery. One of the premises of the Oregon wolf plan is that by directly dealing with depredation issues, that helps create a bit of tolerance. I suppose that remains to be seen.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced last week that it will kill two of the four remaining members of the Imnaha pack, which has been responsible for 14 confirmed livestock kills over the last two years.
A department hunter is looking first for a member of the pack not collared with a radio transmitter, Morgan said. Then he will go after the alpha male, which goes by the number OR4 and sired the first pups in Oregon since wolves began moving back into the state from Idaho in the 1990s.
Two other members of the pack, the only one of three packs in Oregon that has been tied to livestock attacks, were shot earlier this year. A third kill order was not carried out, and two members of the pack have left Oregon, one going to Idaho and the other to Washington.
Morgan said the loss of the alpha male and leaving just two survivors of the pack could mean its demise, but he said that prospect had nothing to do with the decision to kill two members.
Enterprise rancher Todd Nash owned the calf whose death earlier this month led to the kill order. It was part of a herd of 150 grazing on private land east of Joseph in an area known as The Divide. He was not using nonlethal controls such as flagging and electric fencing but did have a range rider checking the cattle.
Nash was visiting a new grandchild in California when he got the call from the department that they had GPS tracking information on the Imnaha pack that led them to believe they might have gone after his cattle. A friend found the remains of the 550-pound calf.
Nash said losses to wolves are not threatening to put him out of business, but they are having an impact. And the compensation program approved by the Legislature this year does not fully cover the problem.
“We spend so much money trapping, collaring, and helicopter guarding and one thing and another. Then they end up killing the darn things. Because we can’t coexist with them. That’s the plain and simple fact,” he said. “This pack should have been removed a long time ago.”
Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild blamed the kill order on the fact that Nash has been an outspoken opponent of restoring wolves — an assertion that Morgan denied.
Pedery added that the state needs to do more to prevent livestock attacks without resorting to killing wolves.
“ODFW has been under really intense pressure from the cattlemen,” Pedery said from Portland, Ore. “This is really a kill order on the pack. It is very unlikely the mother and her pup will survive the winter unless they feed on gut piles (left by deer and elk hunters), which puts them at risk of poachers, or feed on livestock. They really have little hope of bringing down a deer or elk by themselves.”