Baker County Sheriff Travis Ash has issued the following letter to ODFW regarding the chronic depredations from the Lookout Mountain Pack of wolves in Baker County.
The letter from Ash can be read in its entirety below
Dear ODFW Director Curt Melcher:
This letter is an official request to remove the entire Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack due to chronic and now targeted depredation by the pack on livestock, specifically cattle.
The Lookout Mountain pack was established in 2019 with the area of known wolf activity composed of 79% private land. This unit is sparsely populated by people. A large elk population exists in the Lookout Mountain Unit. Last year the Baker ODFW Office counted over 1400 elk, which is nearly 5 times the elk management objective.
For approximately the last three years the Baker County Sheriff’s Office has been working in conjunction with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the ranching community in Durkee, Oregon, in regards to wolf and livestock depredation mitigation. We have a robust system of communication and investigation where the producer, Sheriff’s Office and ODFW employees work together to minimize wolf and cattle interactions and cooperatively investigate all predations that do occur.
Up until this year we have been successful in keeping depredation loss of livestock to a
minimum and acceptable level.
All producers are aware there is an established wolf pack in the Lookout Mountain Unit and have worked diligently using non-lethal methods and advice from ODFW to keep wolves from preying on their cattle herds, both on public and private lands. Ranchers travel through each other’s cattle herds on a daily basis using automobiles, horses and all-terrain vehicles. Attractants such as dead piles have been removed and intensive rotational movement of stock through the range land and dispersed cattle pastures happens frequently in an attempt to deter wolves from killing cattle. Sound devices and fladry have been used to deter wolf presence.
Beginning this spring (2021), the Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack started killing calves and those incidents were investigated thoroughly by my office and ODFW. In just the last 2 months there have been 8 confirmed depredations by the Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack. (See addendum at the end of this letter for timeline and descriptions of deceased animal investigations).
During this time, two ranches alone spent over 1,500 man-hours checking on their cattle and being present in their cow herds in a 49 day period. Producers have shot
firearms to scare the wolves from the area but they continually return. Producers have yelled at the wolves and in return wolves often bark or howl back at them. The latest confirmed depredation occurred the night following active hazing and harassing of the wolf pack by ODFW staff. It is clear that non-lethal measures are not working. Simply put, the ranchers are following the law and the wolf plan as required but are not able to protect their cattle and investments from depredation by the Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack. The financial burden, physical strain and exhaustion they are going through in what has become a fruitless effort to keep the Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack from killing their animals is extreme.
Now is the time for ODFW to step up and actively manage the Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack. The level of depredation has become unacceptable. Landowners and producers are currently cooperating partners with local ODFW employees but the local ODFW employees must be allowed to address the chronic cattle depredation crisis if the spirit of the partnership is going to continue.
For a healthy ecosystem, a balance must occur between predation and grazing. Lookout Mountain is out of balance right now because wolves are pursuing cattle as a food source rather than hunting their natural prey-elk and deer, which are plentiful in the area. With the hot weather, cattle present a much easier and more accessible food supply for wolves. Wolves can spend much less energy killing a cow than chasing an elk or deer, reinforcing this negative behavior. At Lookout, once the behavior was learned the wolves have continued to feed on cattle and show no sign of stopping.
The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan states that lethal control of wolves is best used in an adaptive, integrated management program which includes non-lethal and preventive measures as a starting point. The Lookout Mountain ranching community has followed the wolf plan for several years, but in the last two months depredation levels have risen from chronic to targeted hunting and killing of cattle. ODFW permitted the removal of two wolves to reduce the strain on the pack but that has not stopped them from targeting cows. The second attempt at removing wolves with ground resources only was also not successful. Removing the wolf pack will solve this problem but will not have a negative impact on overall wolf populations in Oregon.
As noted in the Oregon Wolf Plan, the removal of a depredating wolf pack reduced subsequent depredations by 79% for a 5 year period (Montana/Oregon Wolf plan). The plan also states that removal of a breeding pair of wolves does not have significant effects on overall population dynamics.
In closing, I am requesting the removal of the entire Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack. I believe the most humane way of dealing with this problem wolf pack is to remove the adult breeding pair that are teaching the negative learned behavior of targeting cattle to their offspring. Removal of the breeding pair will also require removal of the offspring as it is more humane to remove the offspring versus letting them starve. If a new wolf pack moves into the area, hopefully it will coexist with cattle and rely on the abundant existing traditional food sources – elk and deer, and be a benefit to the ecosystem.
Travis Ash, Baker County Sheriff
Beginning on March 18th, a depredation investigation was launched in the Prichard Creek drainage adjacent to Dale Smull’s private property. A wolf had been seen in the area, running while carrying part of a carcass. A jaw bone from a deceased calf was found in the area. Several wolf tracks were located in the area but there was not enough of the deceased animal remaining to investigate or determine if it was killed a result of predation. There was an attack scene where the ground was disturbed and contained both wolf and cow tracks. The official determination of this depredation was possible/unknown.
On July 13th, an estimated 400 pound calf was found deceased in the area of First Creek on Virtue Flat. This animal belonged to Ken O’Neal and was being ran with Mackenzie Ranch cattle. Numerous wolf tracks were located around the deceased calf. The calf had been scavenged and there were not any perimortem bite marks. This investigation did not confirm a wolf kill although wolves had scavenged the calf. The official determination of this depredation was classified as other.
On July 14th, an estimated 400 pound calf was found deceased by Deward Thompson in the Nodine area of Lookout Mountain. Perimortem bite marks were discovered and this confirmed depredation was attributed to the Lookout Mountain Pack. Side-by-side vehicles were used to get to this scene, and we were not quiet during the investigation. As we were preparing to leave, wolves could be heard howling. Brian Ratliff howled and was immediately answered by more than one wolf.
On July 21st, an estimated 900 pound steer was found injured by Deward Thompson and transported to a corral system on Manning Creek. This steer had been pastured on private land, near Manning Creek. The injuries to the hind legs, at least 30 bite scrapes, in this confirmed depredation were attributed to the Lookout Mountain Pack.
On July 23rd, Deward Thompson reported finding an 800 pound heifer deceased on private land in the Nodine area of Lookout Mountain. The scene showed the chase and subsequent killing of the heifer. The heifer remained largely intact and perimortem bite marks were evidenced as well. This killing of the heifer was a confirmed depredation and attributed to the Lookout Mountain pack.
Baker County District Attorney Greg Baxter accompanied me during this investigation. Again, side-by-sides and four wheelers were used to drive to the location of the deceased heifer. There were several of us at the site and we were not being quiet.
Following the investigation, ODFW employees, landowners and DA Baxter walked up the draw from the deceased heifer. This was during the middle of the day. Wolves howled at the humans and pups ran from the bushes. DA Baxter and Levi Bunch witnessed the collared male wolf trailing after cows, barking and howling at them ultimately running the cows down the side of the hill. The wolves continued to howl and bark while we were in the area.
On July 25th, Deward Thompson reported finding a steer that had possibly been attacked by wolves. The steer had been relocated to corrals located on Manning Creek. The steer, approximately 800 pounds, had a large section of hide hanging from its back leg. Both back legs had bite marks and the confirmed depredation was attributed to the Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack.
On August 1, Robert Eber reported finding a dead sheep in the area of Bacher Spring. This investigation was not consistent with wolf depredation and officially classified as other.
On August 19th, a deceased calf was found on private property in the Manning Creek area. The calf belonged to the Bloomer Ranch. The calf was heavily consumed and there were wolf tracks around the carcass. Numerous perimortem bite marks were present on the hide and skull of the calf. This calf was young, with an estimated weight of 150 pounds. This confirmed depredation was attributed to the Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack.
On August 30th, a deceased calf weighing approximately 600 pounds was found in the Lawrence Creek area and belonged to the Phillips Ranch. A struggle scene was located with blood from the calf on branches and vegetation. There were numerous perimortem bite marks on the calf, and this confirmed depredation was attributed to the Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack.
On September 9th, a deceased 600 pound calf was found on private land belonging to the Phillips Ranch. The animal was partially consumed with hide remaining intact. The calf was estimated to have died on the 7th of September. This confirmed depredation was attributed to the Lookout Mountain Wolf Pack.