A calf attacked in Wallowa County Oct. 15 has died of its injuries, making it the 82nd confirmed kill by gray wolves since they returned to Oregon in the late 1990s.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has described the attack as the first by what’s called the Snake River Pack, which at the end of 2012 was documented to have seven members, including a breeding pair.
The attack occurred on forested public grazing land on a section known as the Freezout Saddle Area. A rancher checking on cattle saw a cow running down a slope with four wolves on the hillside above her. When he returned the next day, he found the 250-pound calf with severe bite wounds.
Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts, who chairs the local wolf committee, said the pack’s activity is a concern.
“We’ve got multiple producers in that area who have stock, and some feel they have lost stock to wolves in past,” she said. But the area is steep and hard to get to except by horseback or hiking, so ranchers haven’t bothered to call out wildlife officials to document damage, she said.
“But this (attack) was more south than where they have been historically roaming,” Roberts said. “When a pack increases, they disperse. You can assume that what going on there.
Under certain conditions, ranchers can shoot wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock or domestic animals. The attack has to occur on the rancher’s property or on land they lawfully occupy, such as on a grazing permit. In addition, ranchers are not allowed to intentionally attract wolves to their property.
Otherwise, strict management rules apply because wolves are protected under state and federal law endangered species acts. A lawsuit filed against the wildlife department by three environmental groups resulted in a settlement that established the management rules. Among other details, the wildlife department can’t issue a kill order until there have been four “qualifying incidents” – attacks – within a six-month period.
In order for an attack to be counted, the landowner had to be using two preventative measures and they must have been in place at the time of the attack. Deterrence methods include hiring range riders to respond on horseback or all-terrain vehicles, and electrified fladry, fabric streamers that flap in the wind and bother wolves.
Even then, details can snag the process.
In August, a milking goat was found killed and partially eaten in Umatilla County. State wildlife officials quickly confirmed it was the second kill by the Umatilla River Pack, but didn’t file a deterrence plan within 14 days as required by the management plan. Because of the missed deadline, the attack couldn’t be counted as a second qualifying incident.
Oregon had at least 46 gray wolves at the end of 2012, all in the northeastern corner of the state except OR-7, the wandering lone wolf who traveled from northeastern Oregon into California before returning to southern Oregon. The first Oregon wolf is believed to have crossed over from Idaho in 1999.
Earlier this fall, the Oregon Department of Agriculture allocated $38,000 to help prevent livestock attacks in five counties, including Wallowa.
The money will be spent to pay range riders, put up fladry, remove livestock bone piles that may attract them and, in one county, buy a box that emits an alarm when activated by radio signals from an approaching wolf wearing an electronic tracking collar, as many of them do.
Funding comes from $200,000 approved by the Legislature for the 2013-15 biennium, twice what was allocated the previous session.