By Jayson Jacoby
A pack of wolves has killed at least one deer and one elk in Baker County over the past two weeks.
A biologist from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said a group of four wolves killed a female deer on Feb. 7 near Ruckles Creek, about 10 miles east of Baker City.
Brian Ratliff, district wildlife biologist at the ODFW office in Baker City, also said that a group of three to four wolves ate, and probably killed, an adult cow elk around Feb. 16 near Durkee.
ODFW officials don't know where the wolves came from or where they are now, and no one has reported seeing any wolves in either area, Ratliff said.
No attacks on livestock have been reported.
It's quite possible that the wolves are the same animals that Russ Morgan, ODFW's wolf program coordinator, believes had been living in the Medical Springs area for most of January.
In early February Morgan said he had found tracks from what he believes are five wolves in that area, which is about 22 miles northeast of Medical Springs.
Ruckles Creek is about 16 miles south of Medical Springs, and Manning Creek, where the cow elk carcass was found earlier this week, is about 16 miles southeast of Ruckles Creek.
Wolf packs can cover those distances easily, sometimes in less than a day, Morgan said.
"We have reason to believe these are the same wolves (in all three locations), but it is difficult to say for sure," he said.
Morgan said scat samples collected near Medical Springs in early January were tested for DNA, and results showed that at least two of the wolves that left tracks in that area came from the Imnaha pack in Wallowa County.
It's not possible, though, to say when those wolves dispersed from the Imnaha pack, Morgan said.
"That pack has been producing pups for several years now," he said.
Morgan said ODFW's main goal is to capture at least one wolf and fit it with a radio-tracking collar.
Ratliff said he was able to pinpoint the time the wolves killed the deer near Ruckles Creek because ODFW, along with the Oregon State Police, were investigating a report of dead golden eagles near Ruckles Creek on Feb. 6.
The next morning, in the same area they had looked at the previous day, officials found the dead deer, and tracks from four wolves in the snow, Ratliff said.
"The deer was not there the day before," he said.
The dead cow elk was on Bill Zikmund's irrigated grain field along Manning Creek Road about a mile north the Durkee exit on Interstate 84.
Zikmund said a neighbor told him on Sunday, Feb. 16, that he had seen a dead animal in the field.
"He saw birds circling the carcass," Zikmund said.
When Zikmund and his wife, Vivian, rode their side-by-side four-wheel ATV to the site, they found the carcass of the elk.
Bill Zikmund said he recognized it was a wolf kill based on the 5?-inch-long canine tracks in the mud around the carcass.
"They had pretty much eaten the whole thing; the bones and the hide was about all that was left," he said.
Zikmund said he considered setting up a trail camera in the area but he didn't because he figured the wolves, having eaten most of the elk, wouldn't return.
But they did come back Monday night, as he and ODFW officials found fresh tracks on Tuesday morning.
Ratliff said the elk carcass was in such condition that it wasn't absolutely certain the wolves killed the elk, but that's likely.
Ratliff said he took an airplane flight over the area Tuesday morning but he didn't see any wolves.
He said officials collected wolf scat but so far no samples have been submitted for DNA testing.
Zikmund doesn't own cattle, but he said several of his neighbors who do have cattle are worried about the wolves, especially with calving season under way.
He said one neighbor photographed a wolf track in the snow earlier this month in the area, and another neighbor followed a set of wolf tracks east of Manning Creek in the North Swayze Creek area.
"They're definitely around," Zikmund said. "It's real disconcerting to people who have cattle."
Zikmund said he "doesn't care if the wolves are around," and in fact he said he'd like to see one.
"But we're a split household," he said. "My wife definitely is not liking having them here."