A crisis unfolded this summer in eastern Oregon. Its victims: the Lookout Mountain Pack.
Between August and October, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) killed eight wolves, including five pups, in the drought-weary region of Baker County.
It is a tragic reality: Oregon’s wolves are reacting to human-caused climate change and we are punishing them for it.
Oregon set new records for high temperatures this summer and extreme drought ravaged much of wolf territory. These conditions meant that the Lookout Mountain Pack stayed near the few remaining and known water sources. Summer also happens to be grazing season, meaning that cattle were out on the same landscape.
While the wolves stuck to the limited water sources in their territory, their typical prey, elk, for instance, were more mobile. As a result, the hungry pack turned their attention to livestock, a predatory behavior they had not exhibited before and that is now causing policy challenges for the state.
Although ODFW deserves credit for creating opportunities to promote coexistence between wolves and our ranching communities, the state still has a less than ideal response to climate change. The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan acknowledges climate change as an influencing factor on wolf behavior, but does not allow for any contingencies in how the species is managed or how depredations are addressed when wolves react to its impacts.
Recently, ODFW called out water access as one of the possible reasons why the pack may not have abandoned their rendezvous site after ODFW had killed two young pups in August. Even those who requested ODFW kill the whole pack, including the Baker County sheriff acknowledged that extreme hot weather was a factor in the depredations.
We may have differing opinions on the solution, but we are all identifying the same problem: climate change.
Oregon’s response to depredation must address how the climate crisis is creating complicated situations like the one with the Lookout Mountain wolves.
Instead of lethal control, ODFW’s resources would be better applied to understanding the changing dynamics between wolves and their landscape and proposing mitigating solutions. After all, a solution that stops the problem for only 18 days — the time between when the first Lookout pups were killed and the next depredation occurred — is no solution at all.
The tragic situation with the Lookout Mountain Pack underscores the urgency of prioritizing nonlethal methods of managing wolves in the face of climate change.
Oregon should also invest in increasing the transparency and accountability of its wolf depredation compensation program so it can support affected ranchers more efficiently, and enact strategic grazing practices that are compatible with sharing the landscape with wolves.
We, too, must react in the face of climate change.
This piece originally ran as a guest opinion in the Statesman Journal on October 22, 2021.