Hunters, animal rights group raise reward for information on poisoned wolves
Nearly $48,000 is available for information that could lead to an arrest in the killing of eight wolves earlier this year.
Two members of the Catherine wolf pack on private property in eastern Union County in May 2017. (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife/Flickr)
The unsolved, illegal killing of eight wolves in northeast Oregon earlier this year has riled up everyone from animal rights groups to a hunting association, driving up the reward for information about who poisoned the animals.
The fund grew by more than $20,000 in just two weeks with the addition of thousands of dollars from several conservation groups, more than $1,000 from individuals and $500 from the Oregon Hunters Association. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department said The total stands at $48,000.
The new infusion follows an announcement earlier this month from the Oregon State Police that toxicology tests show the wolves were poisoned. Troopers have worked for 10 months trying to solve the case.
In February 2021, state wildlife biologists alerted state troopers that they had received a mortality signal from a wolf wearing a tracking collar. The signal was triggered because the animal, located in Union County, hadn’t moved for at least eight hours.
The troopers found the wolf and four members of the pack dead about 20 miles from La Grande and southeast of Mount Harris. All five wolves killed were part of the Catherine wolf pack.
In the months after the discovery of their deaths, troopers and Fish and Wildlife Department biologists discovered three more dead wolves, two dead magpies and a dead skunk in the same area. All had been poisoned.
If the case isn’t solved, donated reward money will be added to the Oregon Wildlife Coalition’s Turn In Poachers fund.
As of 2019, just 13% of known wolves in Oregon were monitored via radio collar, and Oregon’s known wolf population in 2020 was 173, mostly in the northeast corner of the state, according to the Fish and Wildlife Department.
Sristi Kamal, a representative at the conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife, which contributed $2,500 to the reward fund, said losing these wolves is significant in a state with so few of them.
“This is a case we haven’t seen at this scale,” She said. “It’s just horrifying, and very disheartening for us – eight out of 173 is significant.”
Wolves had been slowly moving into Oregon from Idaho since the late 1990s and became established in northeast Oregon by 2009.
In 2005, the Fish and Wildlife Department created a conservation management plan for the wolves to ensure their survival. In 2011, as the population of wolves in Oregon began to grow and encroach on private property, the Oregon Legislature created the “Wolf Depredation Compensation & Financial Assistance” program to help farmers and ranchers with non-lethal methods to keep wolves away from livestock and to compensate them for livestock lost to wolf predation.
But according to the Oregon Agriculture Department, just 13% of requests for funds and compensation were approved in 2019.
Kamal said despite the state’s growing wolf population, the law and the grant program have not changed much in the last decade.
“Right now, I feel this program is not serving anyone. Producers are frustrated and disheartened, because they want certain kinds of payments going out and they’re not getting it. Direct loss compensation comes almost a year later than when the depredation was confirmed,” she said.
The Catherine wolf pack has been tracked in Oregon since the summer of 2014, when a male and female wolf from two separate packs bonded in the Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeast Oregon. They spent much of their time in portions of the Catherine Creek area, and just two of their pups survived to the end of that first year.
Over the next four years, seven more pups survived.
In 2019, the female of the pack died of natural causes, and a year later a new female joined the pack. Around that time, the pack started spending less time on public lands and more time on private land, according to Fish and Wildlife Department tracking.
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