It was only a matter of time before Southern Oregon's growing wolf population came into conflict with domestic livestock. Now that a wolf has killed a sheep and at least one goat in Jackson County, it's important to keep the incident in perspective.
State wildlife biologists confirmed a wolf killed on goat on June 9 near Grizzly Peak and a second was probably injured. A third goat was killed the next day, but vultures had made it impossible to confirm the cause of death. A sheep was confirmed killed by a wolf the night of June 11.
Wildlife biologists believe the wolf labeled OR-33 was responsible. Signals from his radio collar placed him near the kills.
Wolves are now a part of the ecosystem in Oregon, as they were historically before eradication efforts wiped them out. Federal wildlife biologists captured wolves in Canada and released them in Yellowstone National Park and in Idaho in the 1990s. Some wolves migrated on their own into northeast Oregon from Idaho, but none were purposely introduced here.
Since the first wolves arrived, they have dispersed through the state. One wolf in particular, a young male named OR-7, became something of a celebrity as he migrated alone into Southern Oregon and then into Northern California in search of a mate. He eventually found one, and the pair produced offspring.
While it's unfortunate that anyone has to lose livestock to predators, it is a fact of life in the rural West. It's important to remember that wolves are still few in number — the official minimum count was 110 wolves statewide at the end of 2015, a 36 percent increase over 2014. Most of those were in northeast Oregon, not in this area.
Furthermore, livestock are lost to cougars and coyotes much more frequently than to wolves.
Wolves in Western Oregon are still protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, and it is illegal to kill them unless they pose an immediate threat to human safety. Wolves rarely attack humans.
In Eastern Oregon, eight wolves have been killed by ODFW or authorized agents since 2009 because of livestock losses in Baker and Wallowa counties. In those cases, ranchers and wildlife managers tried non-lethal measures to limit conflict before taking the lethal action.
Wildlife officials recommend a variety of non-lethal measures, including guard dogs, flags on fences, special boxes that give off a noise when a radio-collared wolf approaches, and removing carcasses or bone piles that can attract wolves.
Oregonians take pride in the natural beauty of our state, but nature is not always benign. Wolves are another beautiful but potentially damaging part of the natural world, and living with them is a learning process.