The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife irritated environmentalists and relieved Marr Flat ranchers after it authorized the lethal take of four additional Harl Butte Pack wolves last week.
The action is in response to confirmed wolf depredations that included the killing of a calf on Sept. 29 and severe injury to a calf investigated on Oct 1. Both depredations took place on private land.
According to the ODFW website, the Harl Butte pack is responsible for 10 depredations since July of last year.
Permits allow lethal take by ODFW staff or by livestock producers affiliated with a local grazing association. The permit is valid until Oct. 31 and allows holders to kill wolves in pastures on public or private land currently occupied by their livestock.
The Harl Butte pack is currently estimated at nine wolves, which includes six adults and three wolves born this past spring. Any wolf in the pack may be taken.
The agency has removed four adult wolves from the Harl Butte pack since Aug. 3, when it first authorized lethal control after nonlethal measures failed to prevent depredations to livestock. The ODFW killed the last of the four on. Aug. 25.
“We were hoping to see depredations stop after removing four wolves,” said Roblyn Brown, ODFW acting wolf coordinator. “And six weeks had passed with no depredations. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.”
She also noted that grazing season is not over and the cattle will occupy public land until Oct. 31 and private land even later depending on weather conditions. She added that the agency is responsible for balancing the conservation of wolves with the obligation to manage the pack to curb livestock damage.
Brown said the ranchers used nonlethal preventive measures to limit wolf and livestock interaction. The measures included increasing human presence during the day and spending nights outside to protect the cattle.
Livestock was grouped into one pasture instead of several. Ranchers also removed horses from a pasture after ODFW observed a wolf interacting with them, and a county and a volunteer range rider have patrolled the area and hazed wolves away from cattle.
In a statement released late last week, Steve Pedery, conservation director of environmental group Oregon Wild, blasted the ODFW decision while denouncing what the group called Gov. Kate Brown’s lack of attention to the ODFW in terms of wolf management.
“For the fourth time in three months, under an outdated Wolf Plan, Gov. Kate Brown’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced that wolves will be killed to appease the livestock industry.”
He also disputed the ODFW claim that ranchers attended the livestock or that the governor did not involve herself with the ODFW.
“Given that cattle companies get compensation checks and dead wolves when unattended livestock go missing in wolf country, there’s no incentive to do things differently,” he concluded. “Without her involvement, the direction of Brown’s Department of Fish and Wildlife is clear –– killing wolves is the new definition of ‘conservation.’”
Wallowa County commissioner and Marr Flat rancher Todd Nash said the wolf harvest order didn’t go far enough.
“There’s nine wolves left, and they’re taking four more.” Nash said. “I want them to be effective, and I want them to take them all at this point.”
The rancher said that he was unhappy the ODFW allowed the pack to remain on private ground for the summer while the wolves continued to harass and attack cattle in the area. He added that some cattle would remain in the area and through the spring.
Nash also said the agency’s hunters would only hunt the wolves from the ground rather than using a helicopter because of the ongoing hunting season.
“The consideration for a few deer hunters as opposed to cattle and cattlemen who have been doing their due diligence over the summer ... They need to take action and take action responsibly,” he said. “It took them more than a week to make a decision to go to lethal take ... they need to let the local biologist make the decision and take action.”