Fulfilling the predictions of ranchers and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, the Harl Butte Wolf Pack struck again on Aug. 16, a week after the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s lethal removal of two wolves from the pack. The lethal removal was intended to change the behavior of the pack, which had recently inflicted losses on ranchers in the Harl Butte area, including a pair of killings on July 28 and July 22.
Local ranchers had requested that the department eliminate the entire pack.
Arran Robertson, communications director of conservation group Oregon Wild, said the ODFW’s response to the depredations is a bad choice. Oregon Wild and 17 other conservation groups recently zipped off a letter to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown detailing a number of complaints. Among other things, the groups accused ODFW of a lack of transparency, kowtowing to ranchers by not insisting on more verified nonlethal action to reduce depredations and foot-dragging to complete a two-years-overdue Wolf Management Plan revision.
Robertson said that one of the things that precipitated the letter is that the groups were told by the department that they would be informed as to what the agency would do, but not when they’ve done it.
“They’re not announcing when they’ve done anything unless you actively call them ... They’ve decided they’re not going to proactively communicate on this campaign they have.”
He added that the department is generally forthcoming about livestock depredation but reticent with details about the lethal take of wolves, which he said invites mistrust.
Robertson also said that even with the department’s concentration on delisting the wolf and the lawsuit that ensued, the agency should have placed the wolf management plan draft at the top of its list.
The Aug. 16 depredation incident included livestock belonging to Wallowa County commissioner and rancher Todd Nash. The county’s range rider discovered the remains of a calf on private property at Marr Flatt. Both Nash and rancher Cynthia Warnock, who ranches in the area with her husband, Dan –– and who had sustained three of the last seven depredations –– had predicted the event in an Aug. 10 Chieftain interview.
Nash said it was his opinion that the ODFW only took two wolves to attempt to placate the ranchers, which he said, and the department confirmed, had done their due diligence in nonlethal action against the wolves.
“All this does is serve to irritate the environmentalists,” he said. “It’s not effective for protecting livestock, which is the intent of lethal take.”
The rancher noted that the pack had gotten so brazen that an April depredation had taken place next to a home. He suggested that to be effective, at least half the pack, if not all of it, needed to be taken out.
“It’s sick. They tell us to go out there and say, ‘You guys continue with your nonlethal, now,’... We know what’s going to happen if we do nonlethal or not. It’s a sick, twisted way of thinking.”
On the same day, Cynthia Warnock agreed with Nash’s assessment and said some wolf packs seem to get by without killing livestock.
“That’s OK, but when they start, and the whole pack does it, I think you have to get rid of them,” she said.
On Aug. 17, Nash said he wasn’t surprised at the loss he’d sustained the previous day, which resulted in another ODFW declaration to take two more wolves.
“It was predictable,” he said. “Certainly there were going to be more cattle killed when they said they’d take two wolves out. Everybody knew, including the agency, which is absurd.”
Nash said the department’s intention to take only two more wolves would result in more depredations. He noted that the ODFW had expanded their pack estimates to eight adults and three pups.
What concerns Nash about the depredation is that impacted ranchers are not consulted about actions to control the pack.
“They just tell us what they’re going to do,” he said. “I sent them an email urging them to take action that would be effective, and I got no response from any of them.” He added he only learned through a press release of the latest attempt to curb the depredations by removing two more pack wolves.
According to Nash, between the time of the last lethal take of wolves and the Aug. 16 depredation, the pack had been continually documented running freely among cattle as well as chasing them. When he asked the department if the death of more livestock would be required before the removal of more wolves, he was told “not necessarily.”
“It’s really upsetting ... and a terrible way to treat people,” he said.
Nash estimated the value of the calf killed at about $800 but also said that nonlethal methods of defending cattle quickly add up to more than the costs of a calf considering the cost of hiring a person to watch over the cattle, plus the additional costs of time, fuel and vehicle maintenance.
“We’ve lost cattle on top of what is actually documented, cattle lose weight when they’re stressed and chased in hot weather,” he said. “All of that combined is huge.”
The last depredation was also in an area with high human presence, next to corrals and a place where vehicles are frequently parked. It was also a staging site for the range rider.
“There’s very little respect from the pack as far as human presence goes,” he said. “The fact is, this pack needs to be removed.”
The pack now has eight confirmed depredations in the last 13 months. ODFW spokesman Michelle Dennehy said that the department is trying to take a measured response to the depredations. She said the wolves are not targeted by their sex, but as the department finds them, whether through the air or on the ground.
Dennehy also said that the wolf management plan revision is overdue mainly because of the year-long process of delisting wolves in eastern Oregon. She also said that public interest in the new plan is high, and the new revision is well on its way to completion.
In response to complaints about the agency’s lack of transparency, Dennehy offered a measured response.
“We kind of disagree with the idea that we’re not being proactive. When we announced plans to continue lethal control because there were more depredations and more wolves than we originally thought, we did update our stakeholders, our wolf update pages and the media,” she said.
On Aug. 18, Dennehy said that the department killed one of the two wolves slated for lethal take during the previous night. No additional information was available at presstime.