Associated Press by Jeff Barnard
June 20, 2012
While judges on the Oregon Court of Appeals consider whether to authorize state biologists to kill two wolves for preying on livestock, the Imnaha pack has been going about its business, producing four pups this spring.
At least two and perhaps all four of the packs in northeastern Oregon have produced pups this year, bringing Oregon much closer to a milestone in restoring the predators wiped out to protect livestock.
But the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is still a long way from winning over ranchers to the idea of more wolves, largely because of ranchers' frustrations over the lawsuit from conservation groups.
The groups sued after the department issued a kill order last fall for two Imnaha wolves for killing cattle. The order has been suspended while the groups' challenge is heard in court.
"The environmental groups and the ranchers helped craft this (Oregon Wolf Management Plan), and we're trying to live by the wolf plan and the environmentalists sue," said Bill Moore, a cattle rancher in Baker County and past president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association. "If they'd taken care of the problem when they could have, we wouldn't have problem wolves teaching these pups to kill sheep and cattle."
Wallowa County rancher Rod Childers added the department has not always followed through on killing problem wolves, even when there were no lawsuits blocking them.
"If you want to talk acceptance by the ranchers, they've got to do what they tell us they'll do." he said.
Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild said ranchers in wolf country have been slow to adopt proven non-lethal measures for protecting their herds, such as putting out lines of fluttering material to scare off wolves, hiring range riders to keep an eye on herds, and burying carcasses of dead cows.
"The wolf plan called for using lethal control as a last resort," Pedery said. "As soon as there was much political heat from Wallowa County last year, the leadership of ODFW, in our view, decided to kill the Imnaha pack to try to placate some of the anti-wolf feeling. We think that's illegal."
He added that beyond the question of killing problem wolves, there is a fundamental disagreement over the idea of wolves.
"Some people see these animals and see a symbol of wilderness and freedom and correcting mistakes made over the years," Pedery said. "Other people see them and see what their dads and granddads conquered to put the land to use. The actual animal is sort of lost in it."
Following GPS positions from radio collars on wolves, biologists two and a half weeks ago walked in a rendezvous site for the Imnaha pack on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and the den site for the Wenaha pack on the Umatilla National Forest, said Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator for the state wildlife department. Four pups, each about 6 weeks old, were spotted with each pack.
Morgan said the four pups with the Wenaha pack looked at him for a moment, then went into their den. There were no adults around.
He added biologists have not gotten a look at the Snake River or Walla Walla packs, but they likely produced pups as well.
If all four packs have produced pups, that would be a major step toward the Oregon Wolf Plan's Phase One recovery goal of four packs producing pups three years in a row.
Once that happens, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission could take them off the state endangered species list, giving the state greater powers to kill wolves that attack livestock.
After several confirmed attacks on livestock by the Imnaha pack, the department decided last fall to shoot the alpha male and one other wolf to reduce the threat to local livestock.
Conservation groups sued, claiming that would violate the state's wolf restoration plan, and threaten the survival of the Imnaha pack, the first to produce pups in Oregon since wolves introduced in Idaho started coming into the state in the 1990s.
Soon after the kill order was issued, one young wolf left the pack, making his way to Northern California. There have been no reports of wolf attacks on livestock by the wolf known as OR-7 since he left the pack.