The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife made the difficult decision to kill some members of the Imnaha wolf pack after it committed five depredations on livestock in March.
Information from two collared wolves–OR4, the alpha male and OR39, the alpha female–indicated they and two younger wolves regularly used an area of private land on the westernmost portion of their known home range in Wallowa County. Historically, the pack made few visits to the area, but the near continual use at this time of year is a marked departure from the pack’s normal pattern.
Coinciding with this changed pattern, ODFW documented livestock depredation by the pack during four investigations in March.
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association issued a statement saying it fully supports ODFW’s decision, which was made in accordance with the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. The association is also aware that this decision was difficult and not made without careful consideration on the impact of all parties involved.
In this specific case, one livestock producer lost four yearling cattle within a month’s span. Those losses represent a reoccurring problem that needed addressed, the association said.
Todd Nash, Wolf Committee Chair for OCA, sees the takes as necessary, but also views the entire situation as undesirable.
“It’s an unfair situation for the livestock owners and the wolves themselves. Wolves are doing what they naturally do, but have been put in a situation in Oregon where they are going to be in constant conflict with livestock and hunter’s game.”
While ODFW documented eight wolves in the Imnaha Pack for 2015, the department believes the pack has grown and that four of the wolves (the alpha male and female and two younger wolves) have separated from the rest of the pack. These four have been travelling together in this area and are associated with the four recent depredations on private land. Meanwhile, other members of the pack have been spending time in an area separated from the four depredating wolves. They are not known to be involved in the chronic depredation patterns and are not subject to the lethal control order. ODFW will focus lethal control efforts on the wolves linked to the depredations.
Morgan believes the Imnaha group of wolves could be splitting up and that age and physical condition may be playing a role in the depredation. The alpha male is nearly 10 years old and the alpha female has been known to limp since she first appeared a few years ago. “As wolves grow old, or if they are injured, they are unable to hunt traditional wild prey as they have in the past,” said Morgan. “This could be playing a role in the pack’s recent behavior.”
The Oregon Wolf Plan has a goal of species recovery and coexistence with other animals. Eliminating specific, problem animals so that multiple species can live together is sometimes necessary.
This will be the third time ODFW has used lethal control for wolves since they returned to the state in the early 2000s. Two wolves were killed after a number of losses in Baker County in 2009, and two wolves from the Imnaha pack were removed in 2011 due to chronic livestock depredation.
Despite today’s announcement, Oregon’s wolf population as a whole is growing. ODFW documented 110 known wolves at the end of 2015, a 36 percent increase over 2014.
“This is the tough part of the job, but we believe lethal control is the right decision in this situation,” continued Morgan. “Wildlife managers must strike a balance between conserving wolves and minimizing impacts on livestock. This action in response to this situation will not affect the continued positive wolf population growth we are seeing across Oregon.”
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association was founded in 1913 and claims to promote environmentally and socially sound industry practices, improve and strengthen the economics of the industry, and protect its industry communities and private property rights.