ODFW reissues wolf kill permit in Wallowa County

A northeast Oregon cattle rancher was reissued a permit to shoot one wolf on a forested grazing allotment near Joseph Creek in Wallowa County where four calves have been killed or injured since June.

The latest attack was confirmed by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife on Aug. 20. A range rider found the dead 300-pound calf earlier that morning, and investigators later determined wolves were to blame.

The pasture is within an area of known wolf activity in the Chesnimnus Unit, where ODFW counted three wolves at the end of 2017. Chesnimnus wolves also injured three calves in three days between June 12 and June 14, all belonging to RL Cattle Company of Enterprise.

ODFW granted the original permit for RL Cattle to shoot one Chesnimnus wolf on June 21, but no wolves were killed before the permit expired July 10. The permit has been reissued for 30 days and will expire Sept. 24.

Wildlife officials have documented wolves in the area over the past two months, but do not know whether the animals are remnants of the Chesnimnus pack or new wolves that moved into the territory. None of the wolves in question are wearing GPS tracking collars.

The incident further underscores the continuing debate between ranchers and conservationists about how best to manage wolves in Oregon. Groups will gather Thursday for a meeting intended to find common ground on lingering issues in the state Wolf Plan, which is now three years past due for a regular five-year update.

Deb Nudelman, a mediator with Kearns & West in Portland, will moderate the discussion, scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 3561 Klindt Drive in The Dalles. The meeting is open to the public, though seating is limited.

The wolf plan was last revised in 2010. Since then, the minimum known wolf population has risen to 124 animals statewide, and Eastern Oregon wolves were removed from the state endangered species list in 2015.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission was supposed to vote on the plan back in January, but indefinitely postponed its decision to try and reach a broader consensus among stakeholders.

Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said ranchers have three main concerns: fitting more wolves with GPS collars, creating management zones with population targets, and allowing local authorities — such as county sheriffs and veterinarians — to investigate suspected livestock depredations in a more timely manner.

GPS collars will help alert ranchers when wolves are approaching, Rosa said, and make sure they are doing non-lethal activities to haze wolves such as hiring range riders.

“The only way we’ll know that is if there are collars on those wolves, so our guys can go in and do some of the non-lethal measures,” Rosa said. “Without that information, they have no idea until it’s too late.”

According to ODFW, RL Cattle was using non-lethal deterrents when the Chesnimnus wolves attacked, including camping out with the livestock at night, removing injured animals from the pasture and setting up trail cameras to check for wolves in the area.

Management zones could be especially useful in the northeast part of the state, where the vast majority of Oregon wolves reside. Rosa said the wolf density in the region has made it extremely difficult for local ranchers to graze their livestock safely.

As for local control to conduct depredation investigations, Rosa said it often takes ODFW biologists too long to arrive on scene, leaving evidence to deteriorate and lessening the odds it will be confirmed a wolf attack.

“We’ve had that happen many times,” Rosa said. “A lot of it depends on the day of the week. ... By the time a biologist can get out there, it’s really too late to comb through the evidence.”

Rob Klavins, northeast Oregon field coordinator for the environmental group Oregon Wild, agreed it is important for ODFW to make accurate, efficient and transparent rulings on depredations. However, he said if that means allowing decisions to come down to elected politicians and others with a conflict of interest, “we’re going to have a harder time.”

Klavins said the wolf plan must have clear, defensible and enforceable standards for addressing conflicts with livestock.

Klavins said the agency has also weakened parts of the wolf plan in recent years, as it transitioned from Phase I to Phase III, and doubled down on more controversial aspects like killing wolves that have caused conflict and controversy.

“We need a plan based on the best available science informed by 21st century values,” Klavins said. “If we all share the goal of less dead cows, less dead wolves, and less conflict, there’s going to have to be some give and take on both sides. But we’ve been there before and we stand ready to work together to get there again.”

Rosa said he is also looking forward to having a constructive conversation about the plan entering mediation.

“It’s time to move ahead and get this plan finished,” he said.

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