One of Oregon’s wolf packs is one livestock attack away from becoming the first to be considered for a kill order under the state’s unique rules.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday that the Umatilla Pack, which roams mostly private land about 30 miles west of Pendleton, has been confirmed responsible for killing a sheep last week in a private pasture. Two other attacks occurred in June.
The state cannot kill a wolf unless three conditions are met: There’s hard evidence the pack is responsible for four livestock attacks over the past six months, the rancher has taken nonlethal steps to protect his livestock, and the department feels wolf attacks are likely to continue even with more nonlethal protections. “Under these rules, the key consideration for lethal control or any other actions will be to take an action that minimizes the risk of further depredation,” department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said in an email. The rules were adopted last year as the result of a lawsuit by conservation groups.
Joseph cattle rancher Todd Nash said he was looking forward to the day when Oregon’s wolves are numerous enough to be taken off the state endangered species list, and the Oregon Wolf Plan would go into Phase Two, when lethal control rules would ease. That could happen after this winter’s statewide wolf count. The Oregon Wolf Plan sets a goal of four packs successfully producing pups for three consecutive years before delisting can be considered. That has been met the past two years.
Dennehy said delisting is not automatic, and would have to go through a public process. Even under Phase Two, there would be rules for considering lethal control, though they would be less stringent than they are now.
Rob Klavins of the conservation group Oregon Wild said they would prefer a science-based conservation goal for delisting, rather than one set by political negotiation. “Oregon is doing better than any other state in trying to balance legitimate concerns with science-based conservation and Oregon conservation values,” he said. “It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than any other state.”
Overall, the number of confirmed wolves statewide has grown from 48 in 2012 to 64 last year. The number of packs grew from six to eight, though only four successfully raised pups last year.
So far this year, there have been six confirmed wolf attacks on livestock in Oregon, according to the department website. There were 13 in 2013, eight in 2012, and 10 in 2011. Other packs have come within one attack of coming under consideration for lethal control.