Gray wolves in the West Coast states have been active lately, with some deadly effects for both cattle and the wolves. The past weeks have seen an explosion of recent announcements of wolf-related happenings. Below is a summary of some of the most notable in Washington, Oregon, and California.
On Tuesday, Aug. 20, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced that it had lethally removed the remaining four members of the OPT (Old Profanity Territory) pack. The lethal removals happened the prior Friday, Aug. 16.
The complete destruction of the OPT pack came following a string of wolf attacks on cattle over the past year that intensified recently.
“The OPT pack has been involved in 14 livestock depredations in the last 10 months, with nine in the last 30 days, and a total of 29 since Sept. 5, 2018,” explained the WDFW in its announcement of the pack’s removal. It noted that the producer who has suffered those cattle losses “took several proactive, nonlethal, conflict deterrence measures to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock.”
The OPT pack, and the Profanity Peak pack before it, had a long history of cattle predation. The Profanity Peak pack was first recognized in 2014 with at least 11 members. Based on WDFW records, the pack splintered to create the additional Sherman pack and repeatedly preyed on area cattle.
Members of both the Profanity Peak and Sherman packs were periodically removed in an effort to deter livestock predation. This seemed to work in the case of the Sherman pack, but not the Profanity Peak pack. In late 2016/early 2017, the Profanity Peak pack was effectively destroyed following lethal removals.
The OPT pack grew up in the areas previously occupied by the Profanity Peak pack, with the first mention being June 1, 2018. Reports of livestock predation began almost immediately. Authorization of lethal take of OPT pack members by WDFW Director Kelly Susewind began in September 2018.
The authorization for this most recent removal was the fourth for the OPT pack and was issued July 31. It was immediately challenged in court. Plaintiffs sought a restraining order and a preliminary injunction to block the lethal take authorization, but the restraining order was denied. A hearing was held on Aug. 16 to review the preliminary injunction request, the same day the WDFW removed the four remaining members of the OPT pack.
Lethal removal authorizations were also issued against the Togo pack, which overlaps slightly in territory with the OPT pack in northeastern Washington. The authorization came following several attacks on calves. As of Aug. 16, no Togo pack members had been killed.
On Monday, Aug. 19, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon announced that Colton Tony Dick of Oakridge, OR pled guilty to the 2016 shooting of a gray wolf in western Oregon’s Fremont-Winema National Forest.
According to the announcement, Dick shot an adult female GPS-collared gray wolf known as “OR 28” as it was walking away from him with a rifle. The wolf was found dead of the gunshot wound on Oct. 6, 2016.
Unlawful taking of an endangered species can result into a maximum sentence of a year in prison, a $100,000 fine, and a year of “supervised release.” According to the announcement, Dick received a deferred sentencing agreement involving a year of supervised release, a $2,500 fine paid in restitution to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, a year without hunting, and 100 hours of community service.
Gray wolves are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in western Oregon. However, on the east side of the state, wolves are not protected by the federal ESA, and have been delisted from the Oregon state ESA. However, they are still protected by the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. This plan was recently updated in June 2019 to update the population and include provisions for limited, regulated hunting and trapping of wolves, and the definitions of “chronic depredation” related to wolf-livestock conflict.
Two weeks ago, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced the ninth confirmed attack by the Lassen pack on livestock.
In the most recent instance (Aug. 4) a USDA Wildlife Services specialist was investigating two potential wolf kills involving adult cows, when he found a fresh carcass of a 250-pound calf that showed clear signs of wolf attack. The two adult cows had been too decomposed to determine the cause of death, but the calf was recorded as a confirmed wolf kill. Tracking information on the GPS-collared breeding female of the Lassen pack indicated she had been 1.4 miles from the location of the calf carcass the day before, wolf tracks were present near the carcass, and three Lassen pack members were observed by the specialist nearby while he was investigating.
Recent livestock loss reports from the CDFW going back to spring of this year all cite Lassen pack members involved with confirmed or possible wolf attacks or having taken place in territory frequented by the Lassen pack. In one instance from mid-July, the breeding female of the Lassen pack was observed by investigators to be feeding on the carcass of a heifer.
In California, it is illegal to shoot at or attempt to injure or kill a wolf, even it if is attacking your livestock. — WLJ