Sunday, October 18, 2015

OR state police lack proof that wolf deaths were human-caused

Eric Mortenson
Capital Press
The lead investigator for Oregon State Police won't speculate on what happened to the wolves.

The lead Oregon State Police investigator said the agency does not have probable cause to believe humans caused the deaths of the Sled Springs wolf pair in August.

Senior Trooper Kreg Coggins also said it’s unclear how the wolves died. State police use a standard of 51 percent certainty in determining probable cause, he said, and evidence in the case did not reach that level.“At this point it’s somewhat of a mystery,” he said.

State police headquarters announced Oct. 14 that the investigation is suspended. In a news release, the agency said a veterinarian had performed a necropsy on the wolves but was unable to determine the cause of death because the bodies had decomposed.

Coggins said it’s not always easy to tell if an animal has been shot or poisoned. Decomposition complicates investigations, and the wolves were found dead during hot August weather, he said.
Coggins declined to speculate on what happened.

The environmental group Oregon Wild has called the deaths “suspicious” because wolves have been killed illegally in Oregon previously and “there is a very vocal minority that enthusiastically encourages it.”

ODFW confirmed the Sled Springs Pair killed a calf in June. Coggins, who works out of OSP’s Enterprise outpost, downplayed the possibility that the wolves were killed by ranchers or others in retaliation. Cattle have been attacked by wolves many times in Wallowa County, and no one has shot wolves in response, he said.

Oregon law defines probable cause as a “substantial objective basis” for believing a crime has been committed and a person to be arrested is responsible for it.

Northeast Oregon Wolves are protected under the state Endangered Species Act and killing them is a crime. But their presence is controversial, especially among cattle and sheep producers who bear the cost and stress of livestock losses and of non-lethal defensive measures.

The investigation began the week of Aug. 24 after a tracking collar worn by the female of the pair, OR-21, emitted a mortality signal. State police and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife searched the area, north of the town of Wallowa, and found the female dead. Coggins said he went to the area the following day and found the male wolf dead as well. Police have said the wolves’ bodies were within 50 yards of each other.

State police and ODFW did not announce the deaths until Sept. 16. OSP spokesman Lt. Bill Fugate said at the time that investigators delayed disclosing the information because they did not want to tip their hand.

The pair had pups that would have been about five months old when the adult wolves died. An ODFW spokeswoman said the pups have not been seen, but they should be weaned at this point and are most likely “free-ranging” and able to fend for themselves.

Police ask that anyone with information about the case contact Coggins at 541-426-3049, call the TIP Hotline at 1-800-452-788 or e-mail TIP@state.or.us.

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