NE Oregon Sees Outbreak Of Poisoning Cases That Includes Wolves, Cows, Eagles, Dogs, Cougar, Coyote

Above photo: ODFW staff donned Tyvek suits, respirators, layers of gloves and eye protection in a mission to get the toxic cow carcass out of the forest before it could kill more wildlife.

Oregon investigators found a cow carcass laced with poison in a creek in the Imnaha River drainage. The target was likely a wolf, the latest poisoning in a disturbing trend that has killed 19 wolves in Oregon since 2015. Whatever the target, the collateral damage in northeast Oregon’s ongoing poisoning cases now includes golden eagles, dogs, and other carnivores.  

The latest case was announced by Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week. Poison killed three wolves from the South Snake Pack including the breeding male and female and a juvenile, along with two golden eagles, a cougar and a coyote in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area managed by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

OSP F&W also announced several poisoning incidents in the region that have killed domestic dogs. Veterinarians have confirmed one case of a domestic dog being poisoned that occurred about nine miles north of Enterprise in April. Another recent suspected poisoning case involving a dog was investigated six miles north of Imnaha. 

With the toll rising and as the region’s busy season for outdoor recreation gets underway, ODFW is warning people to take precautions. Hikers, mushroom pickers, wildlife watchers, hunters and anglers should take steps to protect their pets, wildlife and natural resources when recreating in northeast Oregon:

•         Keep your dog on a leash and under control. Don’t let them eat anything they find in the forest.

•         Learn what to carry to induce vomiting in your dog before venturing out—ask your veterinarian for advice. If you suspect that your pet may have been poisoned, visit a veterinarian immediately.  

•         Watch for dead birds or mammals (scavengers) which can indicate poison.

•         Know what a poisoned carcass looks like. This may be tricky to spot but watch for substances on the carcass that seem unnatural (powders or strange colors).

•         Be on the lookout for suspicious bait. An unnatural item in the woods such as a meat ball or piece of steak could be an indicator that someone is trying to poison wildlife in the area.

•         Don’t approach anyone who you suspect of poisoning. Get some details such as license plate, description of vehicle and persons, date, and time of the incident.

Poison required special clean-up

Typically, the most important equipment wildlife biologists carry into the field is a good set of binoculars and a clipboard. 

But ODFW staff donned Tyvek suits, respirators, layers of gloves and eye protection in a mission to get the toxic cow carcass out of the forest before it could kill more wildlife.

The incident first unfolded on February 3, when ODFW received a mortality alert for a collared wolf in the remote Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Flying into the area of the signal, they confirmed that the breeding female of the pack was dead. Later, the dead breeding male and a juvenile were also located.

The true toll took several more weeks to uncover, as ODFW and OSP F&W continued to find dead animals (the golden eagles, cougar and coyote) and a dead Steller’s jay and black-billed magpie next to the cow carcass.

An on-the-ground search was needed to find the source of the poison and after hiking for a full day, ODFW and OSP F&W found a cow carcass laced with poison in a creek in the Imnaha River drainage.

Poison presents a risk to wildlife, pets, water and other natural resources. Some can break down slowly and remain dangerous in the environment for long periods of time. Some poisons are toxic to both wildlife and people, not biodegradable, and can have long-lasting harmful effects on aquatic life.

Leaving the poisoned carcass in the creek to kill more wildlife was not an option but it needed to be removed without endangering staff doing the dirty work. ODFW coordinated with the Department of Environmental Quality to develop a plan to extract the carcass while protecting the health of staff. 

“The safety of ODFW staff is our top priority, and we thank DEQ for their guidance that helped us get this poison off the landscape for the safety of wildlife, in a way that didn’t jeopardize the health of our staff,” said Bernadette Graham-Hudson, ODFW wildlife division administrator. 

Dressed in hazmat gear, ODFW staff managed to get the heavy carcass (cows typically weigh 700-1,000 pounds) onto a tarp and then into a net. It was then long-lined out of the creek by helicopter. ODFW staff then drove it to a facility in Arlington, Ore. that could handle toxic waste to dispose of it, per guidance from DEQ.

“Northeast Oregon is known for its natural resources and outdoor opportunities, so it’s just terrible to have this going on,” said Graham-Hudson. “We hope whoever is poisoning wildlife is quickly caught and punished for the safety of people, wildlife, and pets in northeast Oregon.”

Poisoning a wolf is a Class C Felony in Oregon, punishable by up to a $125,000 fine and up to five years in prison, subject to the sentencing guidelines (ORS 161.625 and 161.605). Poaching federally protected wildlife such as golden eagles, or poaching multiple animals, also elevates the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony, according to new sentencing guidelines passed by the Oregon State Legislature in 2019.

Judges decide sentencing on a case-by-case basis, upon advisement by prosecuting attorneys. Statutory fine amounts for illegal take of wildlife indicate a maximum fine of $5,000 for each golden eagle or other protected raptor and $1,000 each for game animals. Judges may require convicted subjects to reimburse costs for seizing, storing and disposing of wildlife. Courts can also confiscate weapons used in crimes against fish and wildlife, and revoke hunting and fishing privileges.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering a reward of $25,000 for information that leads to an arrest, a criminal conviction, or civil penalty for the poisoning of the wolves and golden eagles. Oregon’s Turn in Poachers (TIP) program offers preference points and cash rewards for information leading to an arrest or issuance of a citation for the unlawful take of wildlife and the Oregon Wildlife Coalition is offering $11,500 for information about this case. 

More about wolves in Oregon,

More about poaching and the Turn in Poachers program,

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