By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Wolf expert Carter Niemeyer told lawmakers here March 25 that once wolves start feeding on livestock, it is extremely difficult to break them of the habit.
"Generally when you have a wolf pack that develops this behavior, it is very, very difficult to break them of that," Niemeyer said.
Niemeyer told lawmakers in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee that wolves generally recognize deer and elk as their principal prey.
"But there is a learned behavior sometimes where wolves cross the line," Niemeyer said. "They get familiar with livestock.
"When they do cross the line and either eat dead beef or decide to tackle a vulnerable calf, they can develop this behavior," he said.
Niemeyer's remarks came as part of an informational meeting scheduled by the committee at the request of Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Pendleton.
Niemeyer told lawmakers of a case in Idaho where wildlife officials used a variety of nonlethal measures over nearly five years to try and break a wolf pack of a habit of feeding on livestock, but were unsuccessful.
"We tried just about every tool in the box," Niemeyer said, "from fladry to rag boxes.
"Eventually that pack (the white hawk pack) chalked up about 34 head of livestock, and it ended up that we lethally removed that entire pack," Niemeyer said.
Asked if Oregon had a problem pack, Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said: "We do."
The Imnaha pack in Wallowa County has killed 26 head of livestock since May of 2010, Morgan said, "despite the use of pretty significant nonlethal measures -- not just by our agency, but also by the producers of the area.
"Clearly, it is a longstanding depredation problem," Morgan said.
Earlier in his testimony Morgan said the department is prevented from lethally removing the pack due to a court-ordered injunction issued in October of 2011.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website put Oregon's minimum wolf count for 2012 at 53 wolves and seven breeding pair.