Last week, reports surfaced that an eastern Oregon wolf pack is “one strike” away from a potential kill order. GPS collars revealed that two wolves from the Umatilla River pack were nearby where a sheep was killed on August 20th. Because this is the pack’s third confirmed depredation incident, the state will be authorized to take lethal measures after one more “strike.”
The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan allows the state to kill a wolf if the state takes several steps to address what it perceives as chronic depredation of livestock in a specific area. These steps include educating and working with affected livestock producers and establishing a plan for non-lethal conflict measures. But once it determines a pack is responsible for four livestock attacks over the past six months, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (“ODFW”) may authorize lethal take. If wolves in the Umatilla River pack are involved in one more depredation incident before December, one or more of the six-member pack could suffer this fate. ODFW has yet to authorize lethal take since establishing the four-strike system after a settlement with ranchers and two regional conservation groups—Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild.
While the count is full for the pack in the Umatilla River basin, wolves in northeastern Washington have already struck out. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced last week that it had approved killing several members of a wolf pack near Spokane. After the agency attributed documented wolf kills to the Huckleberry pack, the agency authorized lethal action. Hunters boarded a helicopter to take aim at the wolves over the weekend, killing one wolf. Efforts are underway to kill potentially three more from the pack of 12.
More than any other species, wolves evoke powerful emotions. For me, they represent wildness—raw, untamed nature. This wildness, Terry Tempest Williams once said, “reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” Yet all across the west, wolves face increasing threats. Last week, Crag filed a new lawsuit to halt logging of old-growth temperate rainforest in Southeast Alaska—irreplaceable habitat for wolves that depend on the little remaining old-growth on Prince of Wales Island.
Recovery of this keystone species in Oregon has been tenuous—Oregon’s wolf population hovers at less than 50—and so wolf management requires measured action. Lethal take should be the absolute last resort—if utilized at all. I am hopeful that wolf management strategies are not simply reduced to a game of balls and strikes.