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Wolves caught killing more than a dozen lambs in Oregon

April 16, 2009 | 11:58 am

Oregon wolf kill

Wolves had been wiped out in Oregon, as in most of the U.S., years ago. The last bounty was paid in 1946. But Oregon has been one of the accidental success stories of the federal wolf reintroduction program in nearby Idaho -- wolves have been gradually creeping across the Snake River into Oregon since the 1990s. The confirmed Oregon wolf pack -- with cubs -- was seen in northern Union County only last July.

Now, it seems, they're behaving like wolves. State and federal wildlife officials have caught two of the animals on camera near the carcasses of young spring lambs near Baker City, Ore.

The cameras were set up after a rancher reported more than a dozen of his lambs had been killed shortly after being put out to pasture. More lambs were killed after the cameras were erected. Not all were eaten.

The success of the wolf reintroduction program in the Northern Rocky Mountains means federal Endangered Species Act protections will expire in May. But wolves remain protected under state law in Oregon, which hopes to establish at least four breeding pairs in the eastern part of the state before lifting its own restrictions. Until then, livestock owners can do no more than harass troublesome wolves, or face up to a $100,000 fine and a year in jail.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is helping the rancher in Baker City set up a flagged electronic fence to keep the predators out, and hopes, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to trap and radio-collar the offending animals.

"We're obviously concerned about livestock losses, but we don't have a state-funded compensation program," said department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy. With the state facing a crippling budget shortfall, bills to fund such a program have gone down in defeat.

-- Kim Murphy

Photo: A trail camera captured this photo of wolves at the site of the sheep depradation in Baker County, Ore. Credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

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