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By Andrew Theen
For the third time this month, wildlife officials said they would kill wolves in Northeast Oregon in response to attacks on livestock.
A rancher in Umatilla County had asked the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to eradicate the Meacham Pack, but state officials said Thursday they would allow no more than two animals to be killed. The pack had seven members as of December 2016.
For the first time, Oregon is considering allowing ranchers to kill the wolves under a “limited duration wolf kill permit,” rather than rely on state officials.
In a statement, agency Director Curt Melcher said there’s been an increase in the number of cattle and other livestock killed, “which is not surprising due to the increasing population [of wolves]”
“While it’s disheartening for some people to see ODFW killing wolves,” Melcher said, “our agency is called to manage wildlife in a manner consistent with other land uses, and to protect the social and economic interests of all Oregonians while it conserves gray wolves.”
“It’s important that we address and limit wolf-livestock problems while also ensuring a healthy wolf population,” he continued.
Advocates slammed the decision Thursday as the latest disappointment from the agency.
“It certainly looks like Oregon is trying to become Idaho when it comes to wolf management,” said Sean Stevens, executive director of the nonprofit Oregon Wild, “and that’s a bad thing.”
Idaho has a more robust wolf population than Oregon but also has legalized hunting. The animal was removed from Oregon’s endangered species list relatively recently — in 2015 – in the northeastern areas of the state, like Wallowa and Umatilla counties.
Stevens said the three wolf kills in August occurred as the state’s own annual report noted the population was stagnant – at roughly 112 animals – in 2016. Oregon also has an outdated plan for managing the animal, Stevens said, and he believes Gov. Kate Brown has been “a little bit asleep at the wheel” in addressing issues at the fish and wildlife agency.
“I don’t think that’s a direction that the broad majority of Oregonians want the agency to be going in,” Stevens said of the decision to kill wolves. “I think we can coexist.”
The state said it approved the kill order after four livestock deaths were confirmed in August and after the private landowner in Umatilla County made consistent and “substantial” efforts to avoid conflict with the wolves.
The landowner moved cattle from the pasture, had a horseback rider surveying the land “five days per week” to track the wolves, and removed carcasses from the field immediately after they were discovered.
“Unfortunately, this year their increasing preventative efforts have not been successful in limiting wolf depredation,” Roblyn Brown, ODFW Acting Wolf Coordinator said in a statement.
“We believe lethal control is warranted in this situation but this action will only be in place as long as cattle are still at risk. We will use incremental removal and lethal control activities will be stopped as soon as the cattle are removed from the pasture.”