A trip to the Eastern Oregon this spring gave two Portland school kids a rare glimpse into raising livestock in the county where half of the state’s wolf population live.
On April 7, their first full day of the 4-H Urban Rural Exchange in Wallowa, County Sylvia Grosveld and Abby Darr of Sunnyside Environmental School accompanied their host to a remote ranch on the upper Imnaha River, well known wolf country for almost 10 years. There they watched as an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist determined a calf had been killed by the recently named Harl Butte Pack.
Todd and Angie Nash live and ranch in Wallowa County and have hosted Sunnyside students six of the last 10 years. In 2012 a student staying with the Nashes helped mark the ears of newborn calves and wrote her name on one of ear tags. In the fall that tag helped identify a calf killed by wolves.
Todd Nash manages the Marr Flat Cattle Ranch and has witnessed dozens of investigations - both of his own cattle and as the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association wolf committee chair. When he got word of the suspected wolf kill on the Imnaha he asked the girls if they wanted to go on an investigation of a dead cow and calf. They agreed, but weren’t sure how they would react.
“I thought I was going to take a look and bolt,” Grosveld said.
Neither girl bolted, though Darr said she got a little woozy. They watched as Pat Matthews, ODFW’s Enterprise field office biologist, skinned the calf, revealing bruising in what little remained of its head, front legs and rib cage.
Nash said he suspected the mother cow had been run to death so Matthews investigated her carcass, as well.
Grosveld said it didn’t appear wolves had fed on the cow, but it’s head was bloody and one eye socket had a broken orb. She and Darr watched as Matthews skinned the cow and pulled out her organs.
“When they rolled the guts out, the girls got inquisitive,” Nash said.
When the lungs and windpipe were removed they were half full of blood. Nash said the organs were sent to Washington State University to determine if there was any evidence to prove the cow had died from being chased.
Even though the investigation was on a ranch an hour outside Joseph, the nearest town with cell phone service and a gas station, the cow and calf were found dead only 250 yards from a ranch house.
“I was surprised that a wolf would attack that close to houses and people.” Darr said. “It’s different to see that in person than to hear about it.”
Before coming face to face with a wolf attack, Grosveld and Darr had only an academic exposure to wolves. Darr said the school had a guest speaker who told the students about how wolves benefit streambanks by thinning out elk herds that have over-browsed shrubs and aspen. The effect of wolves on livestock was also discussed, but it seemed abstract until the trip to the Imnaha ranch.
“When they were talking about it in class it didn’t seem like a real thing,” Darr said.
In 2016 Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed 13 wolf-caused deaths and injuries in Wallowa County of the 24 total confirmed incidences in Oregon. Matthews said the newly named Harl Butte Pack is running in much of the same territory as the Imnaha Pack once did. Four of the pack’s members, including the alpha male and female and two yearlings, were killed by ODFW biologists in the spring of 2016 after repeated, confirmed livestock loss and injury. Since July, wolves running in the old Imnaha pack territory were blamed for four incidences of livestock loss or injury close to where the cow and calf were found dead on the Imnaha ranch earlier this month.