ENTERPRISE, Ore.— Oregon residents, along with state and national wildlife conservation organizations, are offering a reward of up to $7,500 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of those responsible for illegally killing an endangered gray wolf in the state’s Umatilla National Forest. The reward is in addition to the $2,500 being offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
On Sept. 30, a young adult male member of the Wenaha wolf pack was found dead by wildlife agents. The animal had been fitted in early August with a radio collar by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials to help biologists track the movement of the pack — one of only two known wolf packs in Oregon. This is the third known wolf poaching in the state since the species began returning to Oregon after being exterminated more than 60 years ago. Though it has been more than a decade since the first wolves began to return to the state, the confirmed population stands at a mere 20 wolves. The loss of any wolves is a serious blow to their recovery.
“It’s infuriating when any animal is senselessly and illegally killed, but the facts in this case are especially egregious,” said Wally Sykes, a Joseph, Ore., resident and founder of Northeast Oregon Ecosystems, who helped raise some of the reward money. “The biologists had just fitted this endangered wolf with a hard-to-miss collar and sent out photos printed in newspapers and websites across the state. Whoever shot this wolf knew what they were doing and just didn’t care that it was illegal.”
Gray wolves are listed as endangered in Oregon and protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The crime could be punishable by up to a $100,000 fine and one-year prison sentence.
“We hope this reward will aid the investigation of the tragic death of this wolf,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Studies of reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere show that wolves benefit numerous other species, including beavers and songbirds, by causing elk to change their foraging habits away from streamside vegetation, which then thrives, and they benefit pronghorn antelope by reducing coyote populations that prey on their fawns.”
Given the recent history of wolf poaching in northeast Oregon and extreme rhetoric from anti-wildlife organizations, wolf advocates had feared the prospect of more wolf killings. As recently as Sept. 23, the Wallowa County Chieftain reported that a spokesman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association was asked his opinion of people who want to eradicate the wolf from the ranchlands of northeastern Oregon. He responded, “I’d like to pat them on the back and buy them a cup of coffee.”
With wolves slowly recovering in Oregon, livestock owners have been concerned about potential impacts on their industry. While some ranchers have embraced nonlethal methods of avoiding conflict with wolves (like range riders, fladry and radio activated noise boxes to deter wolves from interacting with livestock), others have not.
“I think it’s incredibly important for people on all sides of the wolf issue to look for positive solutions and steer clear of inflammatory and misleading rhetoric,” said Sykes. “In the 20th century, we killed every wolf in our state. This time we need to focus our efforts on how to learn to live with wolves.”
Oregon’s wolves face threats beyond poaching. In 2009, two wolves were killed by federal agents due to conflicts with livestock. In 2010, Oregon authorities issued controversial kill permits for two more wolves in response to the loss of six calves. That controversial action led conservationists to challenge the kill permits in court as violating state and federal law. The hunt was swiftly suspended.
The Wenaha pack has stayed up in the high country and has not been implicated in any conflict with ranchers or livestock. The pack has three pups, and the silver male reported to be dead was described as in “good condition” when collared in August. This poaching demonstrates that the last thing wildlife managers and Oregon lawmakers need to do is make it easier to kill wolves, as some organizations have lobbied for in recent months.