By Jayson Jacoby
Wolves from the Imnaha pack killed an adult cow last week in eastern Baker County.
It's the first confirmed case of wolves killing livestock in the county since 2009, when Baker County was the site of Oregon's first wolf depradations since the animals migrated from Idaho in the late 1990s.
Officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and federal Wildlife Services agency confirmed that wolves from the Imnaha pack killed the cow.
The animal belonged to the Pine Valley Ranch, which is based in Halfway.
The 5-year-old cow, which birthed a calf this year, weighed "in excess of 1,300 pounds," said Merlin Flake, who manages Pine Valley Ranch.
The calf has not been found.
Flake estimated the cow's value at $1,300 to $1,500.
He said Pine Valley Ranch "absolutely" will seek monetary compensation for the cow's loss through a Baker County's committee that deals with such requests.
Flake said a group of Forest Service employees who were on a training hike found the cow Friday on national forest land near Sugarloaf Reservoir.
That's in the Wallowa Mountains about 13 air miles north of Halfway, and two miles northwest of Fish Lake. Sugarloaf Reservoir is just south of the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
According to an investigation report from ODFW, agency workers arrived at the site on Friday and found multiple wolf tracks near the cow carcass.
In addition, GPS signal data show that the Imnaha pack's alpha male was at the same location as the carcass starting at 9 p.m. on Aug. 29, two days before the cow was found.
Wolves probably killed the cow on Aug. 29, according to the ODFW report.
Some wolves are fitted with collars that include a GPS transmitter that shows the animal's location.
Locations plotted every three hours show that the alpha male was at or near the cow carcass for most of the next 48 hours.
ODFW officials heard wolves howling nearby during the investigation, and one wolf approached within 100 yards of the site, according to the report.
Flake said he was impressed by how quickly officials arrived at the site.
"I'm amazed that we got confirmation so fast on a holiday weekend," he said.
According to the ODFW report, wolves partially consumed the carcass.
"Tissue damage was found on the body behind the right elbow consistent with wolf bite marks," the report reads. "This is a typical wolf attack location."
The report goes on to say: "It is uncommon for wolves to kill adult cows, but ODFW has confirmed that (the Imnaha alpha male) and the Imnaha pack have killed several."
Flake said Pine Valley Ranch has a permit to graze as many as 500 cow-calf pairs on the Forest Service allotment that includes the Sugarloaf Reservoir area. Cattle usually graze that allotment from July 6 to Oct. 16, he said.
Pine Valley Ranch maintains a total herd of about 1,300 cow-calf pairs, Flake said, making it one of the larger ranches in Baker County.
Flake said ranch employees have chronicled a "noticeable increase" in the number of missing cattle when herds are gathered from grazing allotments in the fall over the past few years.
"We know that there have been some losses every year but we don't have any way to allocate them specifically to wolves," he said. "Wolves may be the explanation, but there's no way to confirm that."