UNION COUNTY — Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying individuals responsible for the poisoning of the wolves in the Catherine Pack earlier this year in Eastern Oregon.
Oregon State Police in a press release reported Fish and Wildlife Division troopers received information in February from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife about a dead collared wolf. Troopers responded to the area and found five dead wolves — three males and two females. It was later determined the wolves were from the Catherine Pack, with all known members present and deceased.
The wolves were southeast of Mount Harris, within Union County. Troopers and ODFW personnel with the assistance of a helicopter searched the area for anything of evidentiary value and found a dead magpie in the vicinity of the dead wolves.
The five wolves and magpie were collected and transported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab in Ashland to determine the cause of death.
Fish and Wildlife troopers in March again received information from ODFW personnel of an additional wolf collar emitting a mortality signal in the same general location. A search of the area located a deceased female wolf, plus a skunk and a magpie close to the scene. All animals were collected and immediately submitted to the USFWS lab for testing. The female wolf was dispersing from the Keating Pack.
Fish and Wildlife Troopers were initially hampered in investigating the scene due to snow levels and inclement weather. Troopers continued searching over the next few weeks as snow melted and found evidence of suspected poisoning. The evidence was submitted for testing and analysis.
In April, the USFWS submitted its examination reports with findings consistent with poisoning as the cause of death for all six wolves, the skunk and two magpies. Lab results also indicated the suspected evidence confirmed a poisonous substance.
It is unlikely that the two magpies or the skunk died from consuming flesh from the poisoned wolves, according to OSP’s Stephanie Bigman, who is captain of government and media relations.
“I don’t believe they died from eating the wolves. They probably died from eating the poison,” she said, adding that there is information about the case she cannot share with the public.
Two more collared wolves were found dead in Union County after the initial incidents. In April a deceased adult male wolf from the Five Points Pack was located west of Elgin, and in July a young female wolf from the Clark Creek Pack was discovered in northeast of La Grande.
In both cases, the cause of death was not readily apparent. Toxicology reports confirmed the presence of poison in each wolf.
Based on the type of poison and the locations, the death of the young female wolf may be related to the earlier six poisonings, according to OSP.
Bigman said the wolf from the Five Points Pack died from a poison not similar to the type that killed the seven other wolves.
“It is different enough that it could be a different incident,” she said.
ODFW spokesperson Michelle Dennehy said the poisonings are “terrible news,” and the agency hopes someone from the public will come forward with information to help solve the case.
“The poisoning of an entire pack is significant,” she said. “We’ll have a clearer picture on how that affects the overall (wolf) population after we complete our winter surveys this year.”
There were 173 known wolves in Oregon at the end of 2020. In addition to the eight poisonings, another wolf was poached in September in the Skull Creek drainage of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Eastern Oregon.
ODFW also culled six wolves from the Lookout Mountain Pack over the summer in Baker County. The wolves had repeatedly attacked livestock.
Anyone with information about the poisonings is asked to contact OSP through the Turn-In Poachers Hotline at 1-800-452-7888, or email TIP@state.or.us, referencing case number SP21-033033.
— Capital Press reporter George Plaven contributed to this report.