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Wolf kills livestock near Grizzly Peak

A wolf has killed a sheep and at least one goat in the Grizzly Peak area outside Ashland — marking the first time the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has confirmed a wolf kill in Jackson County since reintroduced wolves spread to Southern Oregon.

After investigating incidents on two properties a half-mile away from each other, ODFW confirmed one goat was killed by a wolf and a second goat on the property was likely injured by a wolf on the night of June 9. A third goat was probably killed by a wolf on the night of June 10, but vultures had picked over the carcass and reduced it to bones.

ODFW confirmed a sheep was killed by a wolf between the evening of June 11 and the morning of June 12.

"These are the first confirmed wolf kills in Jackson County," said Mark Vargas, district wildlife biologist for the ODFW Rogue Watershed District. "There may have been others we couldn't confirm. We hope it doesn't happen again, but it will likely happen again in the future. As wolf populations continue to grow, there will be more and more conflict between wolves and livestock. We knew it was going to happen, and it has happened. With conserving a species comes risk of conflict, especially with large predators."

The wandering wolf OR33 is believed to be responsible for the Jackson County kills. Originally from northeast Oregon, the male wolf has traveled through 13 counties. The wolf attacked and injured a cow in Klamath County in February, an ODFW investigation at that time concluded.

On June 10, a goat owner in the Grizzly Peak area reported hearing a commotion by a livestock guard dog early in the morning. Later in the day, the goat owner was outside checking the goat herd and reported seeing an animal that looked like a large black wolf leaving the field. The other goat owner also saw the animal through a window, according to an ODFW investigative report.

The goat owner who was outside found a goat carcass with vultures around it at the bottom of a field. An ODFW examination of the dead goat found extensive damage to its leg, shoulder and neck.

"There was deep tissue damage to the throat area near the jaw," the report said. "The trachea was extensively crushed/torn. There was also damage to the cervical vertebrae."

The report concluded the damage and attack locations on the goat's body were consistent with a wolf attack.

Additionally, OR33 radio collar data from June 11 showed he was less than a mile away from both the goat and sheep kill sites.

ODFW also found extensive rear leg, throat, shoulder, back and neck damage consistent with wolf-caused trauma on the sheep that was killed some time between the evening of June 11 and the morning of June 12, when the sheep's owner found it dead. The sheep also had bite marks on its neck.

"We understand this is an important issue. The loss of livestock is a significant hardship," said Jodie Delavan, a fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Delavan said USFW and ODFW will work with local livestock owners on preventative measures to try and get OR33 to avoid livestock areas.

Although wolf populations have rebounded in Eastern Oregon, wolves in Western Oregon remain protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.

Delavan said neither USFW nor ODFW have federal permits that would allow the agencies to kill wolves in Western Oregon. Federally protected wolves cannot be killed unless there is an immediate threat to human safety, she said.

In March, ODFW staff shot and killed four members of the Imnaha pack in Wallowa County in northeast Oregon after the wolves repeatedly attacked and killed livestock.

Local owners of livestock killed by wolves could receive compensation for their losses.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted in February to establish a Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance Program and a committee to guide the program. Setting up the program makes local livestock owners eligible for state funding to pay for prevention measures and livestock losses from confirmed wolf kills.

Money for county programs is awarded on a competitive basis by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which typically has $100,000 to $175,000 to distribute annually. Counties with the most wolf kills receive the most money.

For 2015, $174,428 was distributed, with $119,390 going for preventative measures and $14,018 awarded to livestock producers for confirmed losses, according to ODFW.

Vargas said cougars and coyotes, which are more numerous, continue to kill more livestock than wolves.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

OR33, shown here being collared in 2015 in northeastern Oregon, is believed to have killed livestock in the Grizzly Peak area of Jackson County. Photo courtesy ODFW.