Ranchers seek more aggressive approach to wolf management

As environmental lawsuits proceed, cattle groups call for faster confirmation of wolf attacks.

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Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife made the controversial call last week to kill six wolves in a pack responsible for killing at least 12 cattle. Those so-called legal takes (killing of the offending wolves) removed the entire pack, known as Profanity Peak. The lethal decision has sparked protests as well as death threats against WDFW staff as environmentalists call for a change in policy.

In Oregon, where wolves were removed from the Oregon endangered species list last November, ranchers applaud Washington’s decision. Ranchers here are frustrated with the length of time it takes to conduct a legal take when a pack is threatening livestock, and want Oregon to emulate Washington state’s expedited approach.

“Our program currently really needs some improvement,” says Jerome Rosa, Oregon Cattleman’s Association executive director. Rosa says the wolf population has increased in Oregon to a point where a more aggressive approach is necessary.

He points to the Imnaha Pack, located in Wallowa County. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had multiple confirmed kills for the pack, but delayed legal takes of offending pack members. The department first tried to take action in 2011 after 14 kills were confirmed in the previous 18 months.

Two of those cattle belonged to Todd Nash, OCA’s Wolf Task Force chair. Nash believes Oregon’s delay in responding to the Imnaha Pack reflects the inherent flaw in the system.

“One of my cattle got killed on September 22, and they put out another kill order on OR4, the alpha male,” Nash says.

On October 5, Nash lost his second calf, but the ODWF was prevented by the Oregon Court of Appeals from following through with its kill order.

The pack continued killing livestock.

For each livestock lost, farmers are out about $2,000. When the kill is confirmed, farmers can recoup that financial loss. According to Rosa, the complicated reimbursement process discourages already frustrated ranchers.

Fast-forward to March of this year when ODFW took action against the Imnaha Pack. Four wolves, the remainder of the pack, were killed.

Michelle Dennehy, ODFW Wildlife Communications Coordinator, said the decision was made after there were five depredations (livestock kills) in a three-week period.

“It’s been long drawn out battle, but we’re glad to see that come to an end,” Nash says.

But it’s not really the end. The state’s guiding principles — known as the Oregon Wolf Plan — is under review, and ranchers want Oregon to model its tactics after Washington. WDFW implemented a new lethal-control policy in May that sets a lower threshold for killing a wolf pack — four depredations in one year. A pack take will also be considered if there are six kills in a two-year period.

“If you take out one or two wolves that you don’t even know are causing the problem it’s just silliness,” Nash says. “You have to take out the entire pack to clean it up.”

Arran Robertson, spokesperson for Oregon Wild, a nonprofit that advocates for Oregon wildlands and wildlife, disagrees. His group advocates for nonlethal wolf management tools, such as noise boxes, range riders and brightly colored flagging.

“These tools should be used whenever there is a possibility of livestock conflict with wolves, but they can only work if they’re actually used,” Robertson says.

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Ranchers argue these methods don’t always work. That’s when ranchers rely on lethal takes to prevent further depredation.

Rosa says he’s hopeful the Oregon Wolf Plan review will produce a favorable outcome for ranchers. Meanwhile, Oregon Wild and two other environmental groups are proceeding with their legal challenge to the state’s decision to strip wolves of endangered species protection. 

“The goal of wolf conservation and management should be to better understand wolves and their role on the landscape, educate the public, minimize conflict between livestock and wildlife, reduce unnecessary social conflict, and reduce the need to kill wolves so the native hunter can once again play out its rightful role on the landscape,” Robertson says. “When wolves are killed by any state, it’s a demonstration that we’ve collectively failed to meet those goals. At minimum it should lead to some serious reflection.”

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