Things were looking good for Baker County’s Lookout Mountain wolf pack at the beginning of this summer. With 11 family members — radio-collared male and female leaders, two yearlings and seven puppies born in April — the pack was thriving.
It didn’t last.
On July 31, just weeks after the pack’s adults attacked four cattle, helicopter sharpshooters from the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife killed two of the pack’s 14-week-old pups.
After another cattle loss three weeks later, the department issued a new kill orderfor any two of the remaining uncollared pack members. This means the yearlings and remaining five young pups are now in the crosshairs.
The department said killing the pups would reduce the pack’s “caloric needs” and deter more attacks on cattle. But there’s no published science to support that. And in reinitiating the kill order, the state claimed killing the pups had slowed the rate of livestock predations. This claim is simply not credible. As any scientist knows, correlation is not causation.
Yet the livestock industry, which raises the beef and lamb that winds up on our dinner plates, is unwilling to tolerate even those minuscule losses to wolves. These operators demand an eye for an eye, and Oregon’s wildlife agency carries out the sentence — even when that means killing wolf pups so young they’re just losing their milk teeth and are capable of hunting only grasshoppers and meadow mice.
Oregon’s wolves, like most other wolves across the country, had been eradicated on behalf of cattle operators by the early to mid-1900s. After they received federal protection and were restored to the northern Rockies, some wolves from Idaho started showing up here in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Oregon got ahead of the curve by crafting a state wolf conservation and management plan and adopting that plan in 2005, three years before the state’s first wolf pack was confirmed.
Conflicts with livestock are rare. According to data in the past 14 years from the department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there have been an annual average of 16 confirmed wolf-caused losses. During this same time, 21 wolves were killed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and individual livestock owners for livestock conflicts. So, on average, nearly 1% of Oregon’s wolf population is killed each year for livestock conflicts that result in losses barely approaching a one hundredth of 1%.
You don’t need to be a mathematician to realize something’s wrong with this picture.
The latest buzzword for living alongside carnivores like wolves is “coexistence.” Some interpret this to mean that occasionally — or even more often than that — you get to kill a few predators for conflicts with livestock. But once you kill an animal, it no longer exists — so coexistence is off the table.
True coexistence means acknowledging the growing body of published science showing that using nonlethal measures to protect livestock and keep predators at bay is more effective, and less expensive, over the long haul than repeatedly killing those predators.
Department biologists don’t enjoy killing wolves, and they don’t enjoy killing wolf pups. They’ve told me that making the decision to kill any wolf is hard, and I believe them.
But if coexistence is truly the goal, the department should cease doing the bidding of the livestock industry. It should stop killing wolf pups and making anti-scientific claims about the effectiveness of those killings.
This column first appeared in the Register-Guard (Eugene).