ODFW rejects calf depredation as wolf kill despite US Wildlife Services’ confirmation
JOSEPH, Ore — Joseph rancher Tom Schaafsma who discovered a slaughtered calf in his cow pasture last Thursday, May 13, and reported it as a wolf attack, is not very happy. While Marlin Riggs, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed the kill as a wolf attack after examining the carcass at the Schaafsma ranch that day, ODFW decided that not enough evidence was available, therefore discounting the kill was the result of a wolf.
According to Schaafsma, he was informed of ODFW’s decision by Riggs who was a part of a meeting between USDA and ODFW on Sunday, May, 16, 2010.
Taking into consideration that ODFW’s wolf management plan calls for USDA to be the lead agency to respond to reports of wolf depredation, ODFW’s decision to overrule the Federal Government becomes puzzling.
According to Schaafsma, Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator, based his decision to discount the kill was by wolves on evidence available after examining the carcass at the local ODFW office without ever having been at the Schaafsma’s ranch where the calf was killed. Riggs based his findings on evidence found not only at the scene but after performing a necropsy at the ranch utilizing his 39 years of professional experience in wildlife and predator depredation.
Schaafsma still believes Riggs’ initial evaluation is the correct one, and that the calf didn’t die of disease. He reiterated with Wallowa Valley Online during a phone conversation Sunday evening that he didn’t have any health issues with any of his cows or calves before and on the day of the incident. “I check my animals every day”, he said, “a lot of days even twice to make sure they are ok.”
The pasture where the calf was killed at the Schaafsma ranch is located east of Joseph, on Upper Prairie Creek and is only three-eighths of a mile from Schaafsma’s home on Tucker Down Road. Schaafsma reported that wolves had been seen in the area for three days prior to the kill.
Wallowa County Fred Steen said, the wolf issue is becoming a public safety issue. Even though few wolf killings on humans have been reported, injuries to humans by wolves have increased in the last three decades.
Retired wolf biologist Mark McNay compiled 80 events in Alaska and Canada where wolves closely approached or attacked people, finding 39 cases of aggression by apparently healthy wolves, and 29 cases of fearless behavior by non-aggressive wolves.
Kinney Lake, near the Schaafsma’s ranch, is a popular tourist stop and youth fishing location. The wolves have been spotted numerous times around that area. Private Citizens have also reported wolf sightings at the south east end of Wallowa Lake, on the north east side of the moraine above Lostine and around Bear Creek outside of Wallowa.
“These wolves are not afraid of people”, said Tom Schaafsma. His wife Lori, and Kellie Shear agree. “They are larger than the ones that originally inhabited Wallowa County”, he said. “These are not the same wolves. The Alpha male must weigh around 140 lbs”, Tom tells.
Schaafsma’s and Shear’s say they are really concerned what will happen this summer at Wallowa Lake and other popular tourist destinations in the surrounding hills and in the mountains.
“We know they haven’t hurt or killed anybody yet”, Lori said. “But you can be darn right that they are going to scare the heck out of people who have not come to Wallowa County for Wolf Eco-Tourism, and they may not want to come back to the county after an encounter with wolves”.
“The impact these wolf killing have on our livestock is not just a financial and emotional matter to us. It also has an impact on the cows and calves. Before the wolf appeared on our land, cows were not bothered by the presence of coyotes – now they are”.
In all of his years in ranching, Tom says, he has never lost a cow or calf to a coyote or cougar attack. Cattle behave differently after such a trauma. They are more stressed which has an affect on their ability to gain weight and function normally as a cow herd grazing the pastures and rangeland.
Timeline: adapted from information provided by Schaafsma’s
May 12, 2010
At approximately 7 p.m., Tom Schaafsma receives a call from neighbor Kellie Shear that two big coyotes or wolves were walking in her hay pasture around Tom’s cattle on Tucker Down Road at the Kinney Lake pasture. The animals were walking the fence on the east side of the cattle.
Tom got in his pickup and drove down Tucker Down Road turning east on the road to Kinney Lake. He could now positively identify two wolves running east toward the hill and his pasture. After entering the pasture through the open gate, the wolves headed south east through a fence and under a sprinkler irrigation wheel line.
The wolves continued south toward Cripple Creek Ranch. Schaafsma stopped at the wheel line and hazed three shotgun shots about 300 yards away from the wolves. The wolves then left the area at a fast speed. Schaafsma returned to his pasture to check his cows and calves. At this time none were injured.
May 13, 2010
At about 5:30 a.m. Tom Schaafsma went with his pick up and trailer to get hay at the Groute place. While driving by he saw his cows and calves. Everything appeared to be ok.
At 9:15 a.m. he went back to feed his cows and decided to move them south. After moving them he went along the irrigation ditch to check for possible sick calves as he does every day.
At 9:30 a.m. Schaafsma found a partially eaten Charolais calf. The animal was about two months old, weighing 200 to 250 lbs. The calf was lying with his head and shoulders down hill in the water with the back leg and torso laying up the hill on the ditch bank. The internal organs were completely gone, the left hind leg and hip were also gone, except for part of the left hock.
Schaafsma then immediately called neighbor and fellow rancher Scott Shear to advise him of the situation. Shear immediately called Marlin Riggs, US Wildlife Services. Russ Morgan, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf coordinator was also called, but could not show up at Schaafsma’s ranch because he was out of the county.
At 10:15 a.m. Schaafsma went back to the scene with Scott Shear. Rod Childers, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, was also contacted. Childers showed up at Schaafsma’s property shortly after. They found large wolf tracks along the fence line where the calf was killed. Schaafsma said that he had no sick cows or calves in the days prior; no pneumonia or scours in his herd. “The calf killed was a healthy animal”, he said.
In Schaafsma assessment the calf was probably bedded down at the location where it was attacked that night. Wolves grabbed its left hind quarter as the calf tried to flee across the creek. The calf went down on its back and right side with its head down hill on the ditch bank as the wolves disemboweled it in a very vulnerable position.
Riggs assessed the animal on site. Morgan wanted to take a second look at the calf and requested for the body to be transported to ODFW in Enterprise. The carcass was transported to that location and remained in the freezer after Morgan’s assessment.
At 8 p.m. that same night, Bob McFaul and Schaafsma set up a game camera where the calf was killed to see if the wolves would return to the kill spot. At that time Schaafsma received a call from his wife Lori, telling him that the back Alpha male was sitting on the hill just east of his house watching their activities. Lori was able to watch the wolf from her kitchen window with her binoculars. “I was able to clearly identify him”, she said, Lori phoned Scott Shear to notify him since they had cattle in that immediate area. Scott Shear went up to the back side of the hill and fired two hazing rounds. The wolf ran off into the timber.
At 11 p.m. that night, Tom woke up hearing Shears cattle call out in an uproar and crying out. He got his wolf collar receiver radio which showed four bars on the alpha male, meaning that the wolf was close enough to be in Shear’s cows. Tom called Shear and told him about the situation. Shear immediately went out to his cows looking for the wolf at which time the radio frequency diminished as the wolf took off.
Between 11 p.m. and midnight the alpha male signal remained at two bars while the yearling collar rose to four bars at midnight meaning that she was very close to the cows. No killings were reported that night.
- Wallowa County Rancher reports another wolf attack – Second depredation of a calf in less than two weeks
- Wolves kill calf in Wallowa County, Oregon