ENTERPRISE, Ore. — As the vote on a new state wolf management plan approaches, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is investigating the depredation of a calf at a Wallowa County ranch.
Pat Matthews, district wildlife biologist for ODFW, said the attack likely happened early in the morning of May 26 between the towns of Lostine and Wallowa west of Enterprise. The area is not identified as wolf territory, although Matthews said they did find fresh tracks about two miles farther south on May 29.
“We still don’t really know much more than that,” Matthews said.
Without more details, Matthews said it is impossible to tell whether the wolf dispersed from another pack, whether it is alone and whether it is passing through or there to stay. The agency has set up a trail camera in hopes of piecing together more clues. Until then, Matthews said the ranchers are trying to check on their cattle every day and have buried the calf carcass to avoid attracting more predators.
“Their cows are starting to be put up on some of their summer range,” Matthews said. “They’re scattered out. If there are wolves staying in the area, they will be potentially vulnerable.”
Oregon has at least 137 wolves as of the most recent count in 2018. Most packs are concentrated in the far northeast corner of the state.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to vote on a revised Wolf Conservation and Management Plan at its monthly meeting Friday, June 7, in Salem. Part of the plan regulates how and when ranchers can kill wolves that repeatedly prey on livestock in Eastern Oregon — a standard known as “chronic depredation.”
Wolves east of highways 395, 78 and 95 are managed under Phase III of the current plan, which defines “chronic depredation” as two confirmed attacks on livestock over any period of time. The revised plan calls for amending the definition to two confirmed attacks in nine months.
Western Oregon wolves are still protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, though that could change under a delisting proposal now under consideration.
Ranchers have long argued they need the ability to kill problem wolves to protect their businesses. Environmentalists counter that the species remains vulnerable, occupying a small fraction of its former habitat, and more emphasis should be placed on non-lethal deterrents to protect livestock.