Oregon state police are searching for whoever poisoned eight of the state’s wild wolves and a coalition of citizens and wildlife groups has announced $26,000 in reward money to help capture the killers of the wolves slain earlier this year. Police have asked for the public’s aid in the search.
Oregon State Police fish and wildlife division troopers were called to a scene in Union County in early February, according to a release from the law agency, and found three dead males and two dead females. The wolves were believed to be the entirety of the Catherine Pack, one of about 20 known packs in the state, which is believed to be home for less than 200 wolves.
The location was near Union City in the vicinity of Mount Harris. The wolves were necropsied and evidence of poisoning was found. State police said crime scene investigations were hampered by snow and inclement weather. In April a male from the Five Points Pack was found dead west of Elgin. That pack had numbered seven individuals and had been active since 2018. In July a female from the Clark Creek Pack was found dead as well..
In addition to the $26,000 reward offered recently the Oregon Hunter’s Association has a standing TIP program aimed at reporting illegal wildlife activity. The program rewards tipsters with points towards game hunting or cash rewards as an effort to encourage conservation and responsible hunting. The organization offers $300 for information about illegal hunting of wolves. The death of the wolves is a reminder that reintroduction of wolves remains controversial, Wolves were not intentionally brought back to Oregon but migrated into the state following reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park in the 1990’s. Oregon wolves allegedly killed 242 livestock and domestic animals between the late 1990’s and December 31 ,2020. The state has killed or permitted the killing of 16 wolves for livestock depredation after what could be called conflict resolution efforts failed. Supporters of wolves insist the numbers of animals killed by wolves are small in comparison to the number of domestic animals which die annually, an argument that may not sit well with someone who loses livestock. The state has a number of protocols livestock owners can follow if wolves are considered a problem. The actual number of animals killed by predators is debated. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 3.9 million calves and cattle were lost to all causes in 2015. Their estimate also says that losses due to all predators has risen from 3.5 percent of the total in 1995 to about 11 percent in 2015. Coyotes were responsible for a large number of the killings as were domestic dogs. Some agencies, including the Humane Society of the United States, take issue with the USDA numbers and the methodology used to derive them and suggest the actual loss to predators is much lower. The totals listed by the state of Oregon seem to suggest a lower figure. The USDA itself cautions its numbers are estimates.
“The numbers provided in this report are based on a sample of operations and are
thus estimates of the true numbers. There is variability associated with each estimate,
although the measures of variability (such as the standard error) are not always shown.” The report said.
In addition to the 20-22 known packs there are an estimated 10 lone wolves, pairs or groups just short of a pack in Oregon. Packs are counted annually based on evidence such as visual sightings and trail cameras. A pack essentially is a family of wolves, a mated pair and their offspring traveling together.
The poisoners face penalties under Oregon law. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
“Except in defense of human life, or in certain circumstances when a wolf is attacking livestock, it is unlawful to shoot a wolf. Doing so is a violation of Oregon state game law, with fines and penalties assessed by a court. The violation would be a Class A misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of a $6,250 fine and confinement to the county jail for one year. The Fish and Wildlife Commission requested that this penalty be increased when it delisted wolves from the state ESA on Nov. 9, 2015. In addition to the criminal fine, Oregon Court may now impose a fine of $7,500 in civil restitution following the passage of House Bill 4046 by the 2016 Oregon State Legislature.”
Penalties for poisoning may differ and one news report said poisoning was a felony and could result in up to 5 years in prison and a $125,000 fine. In addition to the crime of poisoning the wolves the poisoners can face other charges involving leaving poison where animals can find it that can lead to further penalties, according to comments by state police quoted in the media.