Oregon police ask for help after 8 gray wolves poisoned

UNION COUNTY, Ore. — Authorities in Oregon asked Thursday for the public’s help in finding the person or people responsible for the poisoning of eight gray wolves found dead earlier this year in the eastern part of the state.

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Troopers with the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division began investigating Feb. 9 after finding five wolves dead in Union County, officials said. The wolves -- three males and two females -- comprised the entirety of the Catherine Pack. Authorities also found a magpie dead in the area, police said. Their bodies were taken to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland to determine their causes of death.

On March 11, troopers found another wolf dead in the area, along with a skunk and a magpie. The wolf, a female, was a member of the Keating Pack, officials said.

In the subsequent weeks, as snow began to melt in the area, officials said they found evidence of suspected poisoning. Subsequent testing determined that all six wolves, the skunk and the magpies had died of poisoning.

In April, officials found a male wolf from the Five Points Pack dead, again of poisoning. Authorities said a young female wolf from the Clark Creek Pack was also found dead of poisoning in July.

“To my knowledge (the Catherine Pack) is the first wolf pack to be killed by poison in Oregon,” Capt. Stephanie Bigman of the OSP in Salem told The Associated Press. “To my knowledge there are no suspects. All investigative leads have been exhausted and that is why we are reaching out to the public for assistance.”

A group of conservation and animal protection organizations – the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, Defenders of Wildlife, The Humane Society of the United States, Northeast Oregon Ecosystems, Oregon Wild, Predator Defense and WildEarth Guardians – offered a $26,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.

“We are furious and appalled,” Sristi Kamal, senior northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “These poisonings are a significant blow to wolf recovery in Oregon. Such a targeted attack against these incredible creatures is unacceptable and we hope our reward will help bring the criminals who did this to justice.”

Kelly Peterson, Oregon senior state director at the Humane Society of the United States, said the organization was “devastated by the egregious illegal poisoning” and killing of the wolf pack members.

“These eight individuals had rich social lives and families that depended on them and contributed to the health and biological diversity of our environment,” she said. “Wolves are one of the most misunderstood and persecuted species in North America; yet we know that Oregon’s wolves are beloved by the majority of Oregonians, and we urge anyone with information about the person or persons responsible for this heinous crime to come forward.”

Wolves once ranged most of the U.S. but were wiped out in most places by the 1930s under government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns.

More than 2,000 wolves occupy six states in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest after animals from Canada were reintroduced in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park starting in 1995.

Wolves began repopulating Oregon since the early 2000s, creating tensions between wolf advocates and ranchers, the Oregonian reported. Earlier this year, officials killed six wolves from the Lookout Mountain Pack in Umatilla County following attacks on livestock in the area, according to the newspaper.

Officials with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said that as of the end of 2020 -- the latest count available -- 173 wolves were known to live in the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.