Ranchers discuss ways to alleviate wolf/livestock interaction

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer May 29, 2013 11:54 am
As wolves move into the lower Wallowa Valley, ranchers are looking for ways to reduce the conflict with their livestock.

Tuesday night livestock producers gathered at the Wallowa Senior Center to talk about deterrents to reduce wolf/livestock interaction and how to get help when needed.

“It’s a strange situation we find ourselves in Wallowa County,” said County Commissioner Susan Roberts. The county is home to four of the six known packs in the state. The Wenaha Pack, first documented in 2006, has been mostly elusive and maintained a territory in the far northern part of the county and along the Union County border.

In 2010, biologists were able to collar a male member of the pack. Russ Morgan, the state’s wolf coordinator, said that for a month he received better information on the pack than he had the previous four years. Unfortunately, the wolf was shot in Jarboe Meadows outside of Elgin within weeks of being collared. Since then, several other members have been collared, providing good information on the pack’s whereabouts.

Morgan said the pack has spread east of what he called its traditional range — information he gleaned from a collared female. The pack’s alpha male has a collar whose signal can be picked up with a radio receiver, but its global positioning function has stopped working. A young wolf captured last month was found dead within a couple weeks. Morgan said preliminary lab results indicate that she had parvo virus, which may have played a role in her death.

“The Wenaha Pack for years has lived between the Grande Ronde and Wenaha rivers. This spring, a collared black female made forays over to the Chesnimnus unit,” Morgan said. It appeared for a while that she may be denning, but more recent information indicates she does not have pups. Morgan said this spring he investigated the Wenaha pack’s traditional den site and discovered a lactating female.

In all, there are 11 collared wolves in Oregon’s six packs and eight have global positioning systems. Information from the GPS collars is sent to a satellite and then downloaded to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife computer. That information is disseminated to ranchers via text message to ranchers with livestock in the area of the wolves.

“Wolves are secretive animals and the collars become important ways to know how many we have,” Morgan said. Three wolves collared in November made large moves — one to Idaho, one a good distance to the east from where it was collared and one has made its way to the Washington border.

Morgan said wolves are officially counted at the end of each year and the state’s six packs all had breeding pairs — meaning at least two pups born in the spring survived until Dec. 31. 

Besides the packs, Morgan said there is a pair of wolves in the Sled Springs unit that do not have collars, but because one is white, they have been easily identified by members of the public as well as biologists. There are also three other wolves in Northeast Oregon not associated with any of the known packs.

Of the 46 total, Morgan said, “I fully recognize there are probably more, but
our numbers have to be dependable.”

He estimated there may be as many as 10 to 15 more lone wolves but didn’t think there were any more packs than the six documented.

The pack with the most information gathered is the Imnaha pack with 6,000 data points recorded, Morgan said. It hasn’t always been easy keeping up with this well-established pack involved in more than 30 confirmed depredations. The alpha male wears a GPS collar, but has been captured three times and fitted with three different collars. 

GPS collars cost $3,500 and several that have been put on wolves quit working, Morgan said.

To alleviate wolf/livestock interaction, Morgan went over some of the non-lethal deterrents ranchers can employ, such as electrified flagging and radio-activated guard boxes; both work best when livestock are enclosed close to a homesite.

Morgan said increased human presence can be used on the open range as well as range close to the ranch house, and cleaning up bone piles and carcasses has proven to help keep wolves from returning to those sites. “Wolves, like coyotes, are scavengers. If there are bone piles or carcasses, wolves will be around that site,” Morgan said.

Roberts said the county’s landfill is licensed to take carcasses at no charge. 

There has always been an emphasis on non-lethal deterrents, but with the settlement last week of a lawsuit stopping the state from killing problem wolves, there is even more of a push to encourage ranchers to use them. If a rancher loses livestock to wolves, he must prove he’s done non-lethal work to get paid from the state’s compensation plan and for the loss to count toward allowing the state to move to lethal control.

Per the settlement reached May 23, when four head of livestock are killed in six months the state can move to killing problem wolves if ranchers have documented non-lethal work.

Rod Childers, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association wolf committee chairman told the ranchers Tuesday night if they find a dead animal the protocol is to call the Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office for an investigation.

Contact Katy Nesbitt at 541-786-4235 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Katy on Twitter @lgoNesbitt.