VALE — Two agencies have looked at the same evidence but came to different conclusions regarding multiple attacks on cattle in the northwestern part of Malheur County, with one saying wolves were responsible, and the other saying they were not.
Although Malheur County Sheriff’s Office deputies and the cattle owners say six cows were killed by wolves, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports say say cattle were killed by other causes and there is no evidence of an attack by a wolf or other predator.
Local ranchers and county officials would like the USDA Wildlife Services to make a call, or at least issue its own report separate from ODFW’s, on whether wolves are making the kills.
ODFW is the agency for state that determines compensation for ranchers and others who lose livestock to predators.
However, Wildlife Service officials have said that under Oregon law ODFW is the lead agency in wolf management and investigating alleged wolf predation and reports come from that agency.
Wildlife Services, which does control on species such as cougars, coyotes, bear and beaver, can investigate cattle predation and deal with those predators, unless they are wolves, David Williams, state director for Wildlife Services told the Malheur County Court.
Any reports his agency makes about wolf predation have to go to ODFW. The reports are not available to the public, and Wildlife Services cannot act on those predations.
That stance has led to suggest that the county end its funding of the Wildlife Services for its predator control program, which was budgeted in the current fiscal year at about $69,000.
At issue is the loss of six head of livestock owned by Bill and Anita Butler, who ranch north of Juntura, near Beulah Reservoir.
Their losses between early September and Nov. 1, the last one reported on the day of the Malheur County Court meeting, according to Bill Butler, who was at the meeting.
Three of them were adult cows and three were calves, he/she said, noting that losses were at least $10,000. In addition to the cattle deaths, there is loss as other cattle are chased and otherwise stressed, losing weight or having other physical programs.
Investigation reports received from ODFW had “other” marked as the cause of death of the Butler cattle. Investigations found there was no evidence, such as pre-mortem bite wounds, hemorrhaging or muscle tissue trauma.
However, in their independent investigation, Malheur County Sheriff’s deputies found that evidence of a wolf-kill was present, said Undersheriff Travis Johnson said. This included bite marks and tearing of the muscle on some of the cattle.
“We still believe the death was caused by a wolf,” Johnson said.
Ranchers and the county would like Wildlife Services to weigh in and be able to make the call if it is wolf predation. Williams said he is working on a path which would allow his agency to make a public report and finding, but could not say how long that process would take.
“If I was in Idaho I would be the provider [of the report],” Williams said, since Wildlife Services is in a lead position there to determine livestock predation by wildlife, including wolves.
Tom Mcelroy, a Vale area rancher, also complained that the fixed-wing aircraft, with a hunter on board, was not being used in coyote control by Wildlife Services, to which Williams responded that funding determines whether his agency can send up a plane.
Mcelroy said the helicopter program co-paid for by the county and ranchers used in coyote control was effective in control, adding that he and others wondered whether the county should keep its contract with agency, saying the county is not getting full benefit of the program.
Mcelroy said there still needs to be further meetings on the issue.
County Judge Dan Joyce said the court would take the issue under advisement and make a decision later. Nothing is scheduled at this time.