LA GRANDE, Ore.—A radio-collared gray wolf was confirmed in Oregon in January. Credible public reports of wolf sightings continue, and biologists are finding tracks and other wolf sign in northeast Oregon. The de-listing of wolves from the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in a portion of eastern Oregon is scheduled to take effect on March 28, 2008.
As wolf activity in Oregon increases, the state is ready to take the management reins. Oregon adopted a wolf management plan in 2005 and has been implementing it since.
“Oregonians are in a fortunate position to already have a Wolf Conservation and Management Plan in place, so we’re ready to conserve and manage wolves,” says Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator. “But there seems to be confusion about how the plan deals with depredation by wolves. We want to set the record straight so livestock producers are clear on what tools are available to them.”
While a few individual wolves have been present in low numbers in northeast Oregon for months and possibly even years, to date no documented—or even suspected—depredation of livestock has occurred. Biologists are routinely conducting field surveys for wolves and are flying to search for radio-collared wolves known to be missing from Idaho. While no confirmed breeding pairs of wolves exist in Oregon yet, the state will continue to use radio monitoring to document breeding in the future.
After federal de-listing occurs in the eastern portion of the state, wolves will still be protected by the state’s ESA until ODFW documents the existence of four breeding pairs for three consecutive years east of the Cascades.
“Even after federal de-listing, Oregon’s management strategy will initially be focused on conservation measures so that wolves may someday be de-listed from the state’s ESA,” said Morgan. “We share concerns about losing livestock to wolves and are committed to working closely with livestock producers to keep conflict levels down.
We don’t expect depredation of livestock to be a large issue in the near term while the wolf population is low,” continued Morgan. “But keeping the northeast Oregon ranching community aware of the wolf situation, and the legal methods that can be used to respond to depredation, is one of my top priorities.”
How livestock producers can respond while wolves are still listed under the federal ESA
Until wolves are de-listed from the federal Endangered Species Act, livestock producers that see a wolf near livestock may attempt to scare it off (by making loud noises for example) but cannot harm a wolf in any way, even when it is in the act of attacking livestock.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has authority to use a variety of methods to manage any wolves which attack or kill livestock or domestic animals. If wolf depredation is suspected, immediately take the following steps:
- Do not move or disturb any evidence.
- Preserve wolf tracks, hair or scat by covering with plywood, weighted-down empty coffee cans or other material that won’t ruin the evidence.
- Cover the carcass or any remains with a secured tarp to preserve them.
- Call USFWS, ODFW or Wildlife Services immediately. Timely investigation is necessary to confirm the cause of livestock death.
- Any other sightings of wolves or wolf sign should be reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (541 786 3282 or 541 962 8584) or ODFW (541 963 2138) immediately.
While wolves are federally listed as endangered, Defenders of Wildlife has offered to compensate livestock producers for confirmed losses in Oregon. It is unknown if that will continue after federal de-listing. “We will be talking with Defenders about their program and how it might fit into Oregon’s future,” said Morgan.
The federal de-listing boundary in Oregon is Highways 395/78/20 through the eastern third of Oregon. All wolves outside of this boundary will continue to be protected by both the federal and state ESA after federal de-listing, and the above rules will still apply.
Options to deal with problem wolves inside the federal de-listing boundary are increased under state management.
Ranchers’ options after federal de-listing (during state ESA listing)
The state’s wolf plan outlines specific methods that can be used to address wolf depredation while wolves are still listed under the state’s ESA, which are described in Oregon Administrative Rules.
Livestock producers can harass wolves by firing shots in the air, making loud noises, or otherwise confronting wolves provided no bodily harm is done to the wolves. This non-injurious harassment is allowed under the following circumstances: wolves are in the act of testing or chasing livestock or in close proximity to livestock; wolves are encountered unintentionally (e.g. not while stalking or searching for wolves); and the harassment is reported to ODFW within 48 hours.
Should persistent wolf activity around livestock occur, ODFW can work with producers to provide additional tools, such as injurious harassment (e.g. use of rubber bullets or bean bag projectiles) through permits. If captured, the problem wolves could also be relocated to the nearest wilderness area.
The state’s wolf plan also provides for the lethal removal of problem wolves which are caught in the act of attacking livestock by ranchers, but only by ODFW permit and under specific circumstances. Lethal removal could only be permitted after ODFW confirms that wolves have previously wounded or killed livestock in the area and non-lethal efforts to resolve the problem have proven ineffective.
Additionally, ODFW personnel or authorized agents can conduct lethal removal of wolves under certain circumstances (chronic confirmed depredations and ineffective non-lethal efforts).
ODFW had sponsored state legislation that would have funded an education program about non-lethal methods to reduce wolf depredation, compensated for livestock losses, and allowed the lethal removal of wolves “caught in the act” of attacking livestock without a permit. It failed to pass out of committee in two consecutive legislative sessions and ODFW has no plans to reintroduce the legislation.
“While these additional tools to manage wolf conflict would have been helpful, the state and livestock producers still have many options to respond to depredating wolves,” said Morgan. “The key will be continued close working relationships in areas with wolves.”
We realize that each wolf depredation situation will be unique, and ODFW will work with each livestock producer to develop the most effective solution to their particular situation,” he added.
Morgan will continue to meet with producers one-on-one and with livestock groups to keep them informed about wolf activity and management and to get their feedback. Northeast Oregon ranchers concerned about wolf depredation are encouraged to contact Morgan directly at (541) 963-2138 or visit ODFW’s wolf web page (www.dfw.state.or.us/wolves) for the information.