Police in Oregon are trying to solve some recent fatal poisonings among the already-fragile gray wolf population. Authorities believe that at least eight wolves have been killed by poison this year, including five from a single pack. They’re now calling for any potential tips from the public, while conservation groups are offering a financial reward for information that leads to the perpetrators.
The first wolf deaths were discovered this past February near Mount Harris in Eastern Oregon, involving all five members of the Catherine Wolf Pack—three males and two females. A dead magpie bird was also found nearby. A month later, a dead female wolf was found in the same general area, along with a dead skunk and a magpie. The snowy weather reportedly made any on-the-ground investigation at the time difficult, though lab testing was performed, according to a release from the Oregon State Police.
By April, wildlife officials determined that these animals had all died from the same poison. That same month, an adult male wolf was found dead in the area, and an eighth young female wolf was found in July. These wolves were later determined to have poison in their systems as well, though neither had the same type, and officials suspect that at least the July death may be connected to the earlier six.
The U.S. has long had, to put it nicely, a complicated relationship with the wolves that also call the country home. Following their near-extinction in the early to mid-20th century, the wolf population has slowly been growing in recent decades, thanks to environmental protection laws and reintroduction programs at places like Yellowstone. Some states are even now preparing to reintroduce wolves to their historical living areas. But Montana, Idaho, and Wisconsin have threatened to allow the killing of wolves, against the recommendations of scientists and conservationists. Last October, the Trump administration removed wolves from the federal endangered species list (environmental groups have sued in an attempt to reverse the move).
There were estimated to be 173 wolves in Oregon by the end of 2020, a slight increase from the year before. It’s not legal to hunt wolves in the state, though they can be killed in self-defense. But with wolves no longer federally protected, and not having been considered an endangered species in Oregon since 2015, it’s possible that local poachers may be more brazen than before. That said, authorities have not released information about the actual poisons involved in these deaths or whether they believe the poisonings were intentional at this point.
“Peer-reviewed research shows that poaching worsens when legal protections for wolves are relaxed,” Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center, an environmental nonprofit, told the New York Times.
Late last week, Oregon police announced that they were seeking public assistance, after having exhausted all potential leads to date. Additionally, environmental groups like the Defenders of Wildlife have joined together to offer cash rewards for any information that leads to an arrest or citation in the deaths of the Catherine Wolf Pack, totaling $36,000, according to the NYT.
Any potential tips can be reported to the Oregon police hotline, with full details here.