By George Plaven
Oregon State Police continues to investigate a wolf poached Dec. 5 near the small community of Tollgate in northern Umatilla County.
The male pup from the Umatilla River pack was shot dead near Lincton Mountain, according to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife's 2013 Wolf Conservation and Management annual report. It is against state law to kill a wolf unless in defense of a human life while the predators remain listed as endangered species.
No arrests have been made, said Lt. Don Wagner, who supervises the OSP East Region Fish and Wildlife Division. The poacher could face a fine up to $6,250 and one year in jail. Wolves are also federally protected west of highways 395, 78 and 95, which carries a much stiffer maximum fine of $100,000.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the OSP Northern Command Center at 1-800-452-7888. The case, meanwhile, is a reminder of how fragile wolf recovery is across Eastern Oregon — even as the total population grew by at least 33 percent in 2013, said wildlife advocate Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild.
“There’s still a lot of old prejudices wolves face,” Klavins said. “I think it’s important to keep things in perspective.”
The ODFW report confirms Oregon has 64 known wolves compared to 48 a year ago, and there could be even more. The department only gives a minimum population based on hard evidence, which is subject to change.
There are now eight known packs all located within Baker, Union, Umatilla and Wallowa counties. Three wolves died in 2013: the one killed in Umatilla County and two more from contagious canine parvovirus.
The overall increases are a big step in the right direction, Klavins said, but poaching is still a concern. Most recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated a wolf found killed in the Umatilla National Forest in 2010 and another shot in Union County north of Elgin in 2007.
“Whatever you think of wolves, poaching is wrong,” Klavins said. “Unfortunately, there’s a purposeful campaign of misinformation against wolves based on fear. When we demonize them, and promote ‘shoot, shovel, shut up,’ it does encourage people to do things that are illegal.”
Klavins said he thinks most people do not harbor extreme views of wolves. Conservationists and cattlemen did finally reach a settlement of the nearly two-year lawsuit on how to manage wolf-livestock conflicts.
“It forced us all to sit down at the table for 17 months and come to an agreement that nobody thinks is perfect, but is something we can all live with,” Klavins said. “It’s a tough balance to strike, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job here in Oregon.”
ODFW conducted 41 investigations of wolves preying on livestock. Of those, 13 were confirmed wolf attacks and five probable attacks. All livestock killed or injured were in Umatilla and Wallowa counties.
Compensation was provided for ranchers by the state Department of Agriculture’s Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance county block grant program. This included $43,932 for non-lethal preventative measures now required before ODFW can consider lethal management of a pack.
One key hurdle to de-listing wolves in Oregon is observing four breeding pairs for three consecutive years. The packs had four breeding pairs for the second year in a row in 2013, inching one step closer to the benchmark.
In another sign of Oregon’s wolf recovery, ODFW confirmed tracks from a single wolf on the east slope of Mount Hood in December. Spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said there is no evidence the wolf is still in the area.
“This wolf could be a disperser,” Dennehy said. “It could be anywhere by now.”
Wolf attacks are rare, Dennehy said, and this particular sighting of tracks shouldn’t be cause for alarm.