Wolves kill 23 lambs on Oregon ranch

Wolves kill 23 lambs on Oregon ranch »Play Video
A trail camera set up by USFWS and ODFW captured this photo of wolves at the site of a depredation of sheep in Baker County on April 13 at 3:05 a.m. Photo courtesy ODFW

BAKER CITY, Ore. — Experts confirmed wolves killed 23 lambs on an Eastern Oregon ranch in the Keating Valley, east of Baker City, Ore.

The loss originally stood at 19 lambs, but wildlife officials said Thursday that four more lambs had died from injuries caused by wolves.

Michelle Dennehy with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said experts with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have confirmed the lambs were killed by wolfs. A remote camera captured this scene of the wolves.

It's the first documented case of a rancher losing livestock to wolves in Oregon since the animals returned to the state.

The evidence, including the photograph above, was reviewed by wolf experts in several states, said Phil Carroll, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The bite marks, the pattern of how the animals were attacked, the way they were bitten, the power of the bite, the distance between the bite marks, tracks, scat, tracks going off into the woods -- there was nothing else to indicate it was anything other than wild wolves," Carroll said. "Everybody, all of our experts, and experts in several states where they've had lots of wolves for some time, say the critters in the picture are wolves."

Curt Jacobs (above) said the lambs on his ranch were killed, not eaten. (Photo courtesy S. John Collins/Baker City Herald)
"Quite frankly, we're not saying those are the wolves that killed those lambs," he added in response to skeptical comments posted on KVAL.com "What we're saying is, a couple nights before that picture was taken, lambs were killed, and our expert is saying those kills were done by a wolf or wolves."

Rancher Curt Jacobs told the Baker City Herald newspaper most of the lambs were killed but not eaten.

The last reported bounty on a wolf in Oregon was paid in 1946 for a wolf killed on the Umpqua National Forest, Dennehy said. Wildlife officials consider that date the point at which wolves were killed off in Oregon.

Last July, wildlife officials confirmed the existence of a wolf pack with pups in a forested area of northern Union County, north of where the lamb were killed this week. This was the first evidence of a wolf pack and wolf reproduction in Oregon, Dennehy said.

Wolves started returning to Oregon from packs in Idaho in 1999, when a wolf dubbed B-45 crossed the Snake River into Baker County.

In May 2000, a wolf was found dead on Interstate 84 east of Baker City. The wolf had been hit by traffic. Later that year, an uncollared wolf was found shot to death near Ukiah, east of Baker City.

A collared wolf was detected in the state in January 2008.

Wolves remain on the federal endangered species list but are scheduled to be de-listed in the eastern third of Oregon on May 4.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The following is a press release courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed that a wolf or wolves were responsible for killing a number of lambs on two occasions between April 9 and April 13 on a privately owned ranch east of Baker City, Ore.

“We’ve been working since this weekend with the rancher and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and others to help the rancher avoid any more incidents like these,” said Gary Miller, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s La Grande office. “The rancher has taken useful steps already, and I’ve received fladry (electric fence with flagging) from Defenders of Wildlife. We’ll take that to the ranch to discourage further attacks,” he said.

Federal and state agency biologists are now attempting to catch one or more wolves in the area, to fit them with radio transmitting collars and collect blood samples before the wolves are released. The collars transmit unique radio frequencies so the wolves can be monitored in their movements following release. Monitoring will help confirm how many animals are involved, and whether a pack has taken up residence in the area. The information will help inform agency and landowner efforts to discourage further depredation.

Gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains, an area that includes the eastern third of Oregon (east of a line down highways 395, 78 and 20), are scheduled to come off the federal Endangered Species Act list on May 4, 2009. Wolves will remain listed as endangered by the State of Oregon until other conditions specified in state law are met. After May 4, wolves west of the boundary will remain listed by both the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.

For now, although all partners are working together, any final decisions on how to respond to this or further depredations are the responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Defenders of Wildlife, a non-government organization which has offered compensation to landowners for wolf depredations for years, has verified that its compensation program will extend to Oregon as long as the wolf remains federally listed here. This landowner and others with verified wolf depredation on livestock can receive full market value for what the livestock would have sold for at full-grown market weight. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will provide the landowner with information if he chooses to pursue compensation through this program. Landowners can apply directly to Defenders of Wildlife.

The non-lethal methods of discouraging wolves from killing livestock have sometimes been used effectively in Idaho and elsewhere in areas with much larger wolf populations. Electric fence with flagging (fladry) and devices called “RAG boxes” (for Radio Activated Guard boxes) can be located on or near livestock enclosures. The boxes sound off with loud human voices, vehicle sounds and recorded gunshot sounds at the approach of an active radio collar – another reason that any wolves captured now will be collared.

Experts have long predicted that wolves from the expanding Idaho population would continue to cross the Snake River and enter Oregon. Biologists have been investigating evidence of wolves in northeast Oregon for several years. Since November 2007 signs of wolves have been observed within a few miles of this area, and biologists have been conducting surveys.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials remind the public it is illegal to shoot a wolf, even one mistaken for another animal such as a coyote. Any gray wolf in Oregon is currently listed as an endangered species under both state and federal law. Killing an animal protected under the federal Endangered Species Act is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000, one year in jail, or both. Killing a wolf is also a violation of Oregon state game law, with fines and penalties that are assessed by the court.

Individuals who see a wolf, or suspect or discover wolf activity are asked to immediately contact one of the following:
• Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Wolf Coordinator Russ Morgan in La Grande: 541-963-2138
• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wolf Coordinator John Stephenson: cell, 541-786-3282.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service La Grande Field Office: 541-962-8584.

Wolf sightings can also be reported online through ODFW’s wolf Web site: www.dfw.state.or.us/wolves/

Oregon has a Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, created with extensive, state-wide public input and collaboration, which was adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2005. More information on wolves and wolf management in Oregon is available on the website: www.dfw.state.or.us/wolves/