Wolves confirmed in Ore. lamb killings

GRANTS PASS — A motion-detector camera has caught two wolves in the act of killing lambs on a ranch in Eastern Oregon — the first documented wolf attack on livestock in Oregon since they started moving into the state in 1999.

Baker City-area sheep rancher Curt Jacobs said Wednesday his family — third generation sheep ranchers — had been moving ewes and lambs from the ranch compound, where they had been brought in for lambing, out to pasture last week.

When his brother and nephew went out to gather a band to load into trucks Friday morning, they found more than a dozen lambs penned near the house had been driven through the fence and killed. Only a few had been eaten.

Initially, they thought it was a cougar, but then saw tracks in the mud around the dead lambs included toenails. They figured it was wolves and called the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Wolf coordinator Russ Morgan mounted four motion detector cameras on fence posts in hopes of catching the wolves walking by and looking in. Some carcasses were put out to attract the wolves.

Monday morning, Jacobs, 52, found the wolves had come back and killed more lambs. One of the cameras captured a photo of two wolves looking right at it, with dead lambs at their feet.

The attack is likely to revive the contentious debate over whether ranchers should be allowed to shoot wolves on sight.

"It's all right to have the animal be here," Jacobs said from his ranch. "But if every time you went to work in the morning, somebody stopped you and took your lunch pail and you couldn't say nothing about it, it would get old after awhile."

Wolves were hunted out of existence in Oregon in the early 20th century, but have been moving back into the state from Idaho, where packs were re-established in the 1990s.

They are currently protected as state and federal endangered species in Oregon, and Oregon's wolf management plan does not allow ranchers to shoot wolves, even if they catch them killing livestock. That job is left up to wildlife agents.

The Oregon Cattlemen's Association tried to amend the wolf management plan in 2005 to allow ranchers to shoot wolves attacking their livestock, and to provide state compensation for losses. The Legislature, however, could not agree on changes.

Plans call for trapping the wolves and fitting them with radio collars to track their whereabouts, said Gary Miller of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bend. If the wolves keep killing livestock, further steps can be taken.

Jacobs said he was told he would get a receiver so he would know when the wolves come back.

State wildlife agents also brought out some electric fencing with flagging to keep the wolves from the sheep until they are moved out to pasture, where six guard dogs will watch over them, Jacobs said.

Jacobs said photos of the wolves and their tracks will go into his claim for $7,300 in compensation from Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group supporting the return of wolves to Oregon. In all he had 23 lambs killed, and others too injured to be sold.

The dead lambs had suffered bites down over the rib cage.

"In all the years I've been around here, I saw one live cougar," he said. "A year ago, I saw (a wolf) in timberline up here. I've got a picture of his track on my screen saver.

"I just don't want 'em eating my paycheck."

Share This Story