Wolves from a pack that killed at least three calves last week east of Halfway were seen Thursday and this morning near cattle on a ranch at the southeast edge of Pine Valley, about three miles southeast of Halfway.
Officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) who have been monitoring the wolves, both on the ground and via GPS and radio tracking collars on two of the wolves, have not confirmed any more attacks on livestock.
On Tuesday an ODFW employee shot and killed one of the eight wolves, a yearling female, from the Pine Creek pack.
ODFW has approved the killing of up to two wolves.
Rancher Chad DelCurto, who owns the three calves that were killed and four others that were injured, had asked the agency to kill the entire pack.
The permit, which expires May 4, allows either DelCurto or someone working for him, or an ODFW employee, to kill any wolf that’s on the 3,000-acre private pasture where DelCurto released about 130 cow-calf pairs last week.
Outside that area, a rancher could kill a wolf only if the animal is attacking livestock.
The chances of that happening are exceedingly small, DelCurto believes.
“It’s not easy — they’re on the move and they’re smart,” he said. “They’re really tough to try and spot.”
Of the seven wolves remaining in the Pine Creek pack, three are wearing GPS/radio tracking collars, said Brian Ratliff, district wildlife biologist at ODFW’s Baker City office.
One of those collars — worn by the pack’s breeding female — stopped working in late 2017, Ratliff said.
The two other collars are working, and the GPS transmitters are supposed to show their location at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. The radio transmitters make it possible to track the wolves’ movements at other times but the radio signals do not travel far in the hilly country where the wolves have been roaming, Ratliff said.
There are collars — none fitted to the Pine Creek wolves — that allow almost real-time monitoring of wolf movements, but their batteries only last for a few days, he said.
On Thursday morning and again this morning, the GPS signals showed two of the collared wolves were on the Pine Valley Ranch, near Pine Town Road, where cattle are penned and waiting to be moved onto spring pasture, Ratliff said.
On Thursday morning ranch employees saw four wolves among the cattle.
Ratliff said he and other ODFW employees hazed the wolves and pursued them several miles southeast to near the Snake River.
This morning the GPS transmitters showed the two collared wolves had returned to the Pine Valley Ranch, Ratliff said.
He said ranch workers saw six wolves this morning, including three with collars. One of those was the breeding female, which biologists believe is pregnant and likely to move to a den soon to give birth to pups.
Ratliff said he has been sending daily text messages to several ranchers in the Pine Valley area to let them know the latest GPS locations of the two wolves.
The situation is likely to get more complicated this weekend as multiple ranchers move cattle to spring pastures in the nearby hills, Ratliff said.
The private pasture where DelCurto’s cattle are grazing covers about 3,000 acres.
But he estimated that when the other ranchers’ herds are moved to their pastures, there will be cattle on 50,000 to 60,000 acres.
“There’s a lot of cattle hitting the grass today and tomorrow,” DelCurto said this morning.
Rancher has received bulk of compensation
This isn’t the first time DelCurto has had issues with wolves.
He has received more money through the state’s compensation program for wolf attacks on livestock than any other Baker County rancher over the past two years, although none of DelCurto’s cattle were found so ODFW did not confirm that any of his missing animals were killed by wolves.
See more in the April 13, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.