Sunday, August 16, 2015

Mount Emily wolves again prey on sheep

George Plaven
East Oregonian
A northeast Oregon wolf pack is responsible for preying on sheep for the second time this year.

Wolves from the Mount Emily pack killed an adult sheep Aug. 3 on the Umatilla National Forest in Union County, according to an investigation by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

It is the second time the pack has preyed on sheep in the area this year, which means ODFW could consider lethal control of the predators under Phase II of the state’s wolf management plan.

However, Russ Morgan, wolf program coordinator for the department in La Grande, made it clear Monday they are not weighing lethal control of Mount Emily wolves at this time.

“I can’t stress this enough; the goal of everyone involved is to stop that depredation,” Morgan said. “It’s not a goal (to either) kill or don’t kill wolves.”

The focus of wolf management remains on non-lethal tools to minimize conflict with livestock, Morgan said. Examples include range riders, fladry fencing or radio-activated noise boxes designed to haze wolves away from ranches and public grazing allotments.

“We try to assess what is the best, most cost-effective and efficient tools to manage the problem,” Morgan said. “The real litmus we’re judging this against is what’s effective.”

Eastern Oregon moved to Phase II of the state Wolf Management and Conservation Plan in January after the region’s wolf population recorded at least four breeding pairs for three consecutive years. There were at least 77 known wolves statewide at the end of 2014.

Part of the change in regulations lowered the requirement for ODFW to consider killing wolves that regularly prey on livestock. Previously, it took four confirmed attacks within a six-month period to meet the threshold — and only if the affected ranchers were using non-lethal deterrents at the time. Now it takes just two confirmed attacks with no time limit.

Todd Nash, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, has said repeatedly that ranchers need lethal control to be able to maintain their businesses. But Morgan stated it is not always appropriate or necessary to use lethal control, even after the minimum requirement is met.
“Every situation is different,” Morgan said. “We’re trying to assess what options are available to better protect those sheep.”

Mount Emily wolves killed three sheep and a guard dog owned by the same producer in June, about five miles away from where the dead ewe was found last week. In both cases, wolf tracks were found and GPS-collar data indicated wolves were in the area.

Morgan said the producer was using non-lethal deterrents, and the department is looking into what other options might be available and effective.

“Certainly, the focus is on non-lethals,” Morgan said. “While lethal control may be an option at some point, we’re not there yet.”

ODFW has investigated 14 reports of possible livestock depredation so far in 2015. Of those, four have been confirmed wolf attacks. There were 11 confirmed incidents in 2014.

Wolves remain listed by the state of Oregon as endangered east of highways 395, 78 and 95, where the majority of the wolf population resides. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife commission will look at a proposal to delist wolves in Eastern Oregon during meetings in October and November.