Photo: Emma Marris. So OR4 was already on the wrong side of the local ranching community, just by existing. Most ranches have bone piles, or dead piles, which are central locations for piling up the carcasses of dead livestock, since burial requires using heavy machinery. By , the Imnaha wolves were lingering at these places, playing with hides, chewing on leg bones, and generally luxuriating in the cozy atmosphere of decaying mammals.
OR4 and OR2 had what was probably their third litter of pups in April of There were at least four. These arrivals joined roughly eight other offspring, now all full-sized and actively hunting. The family was getting big. Data from Yellowstone suggests that every wolf will kill, on average, two elk per month in the winter. Each elk is generally taken down by two or three wolves. A cougar pounces on its prey and kills it instantly by breaking its neck or slicing open a carotid artery, but a wolf chases an animal until it collapses, then basically beats it to death with its jaws.
Once the elk is down, the wolves unzip it, and first eat the heart, lungs, liver, intestines, spleen, and kidneys. Then they get to work on the meaty legs. Each wolf requires at least seven pounds of food per day, so a good-sized pack needs to kill an elk every two or three days. Keeping up with this pace of consumption demands endurance. One day in the spring of , when OR4 was in his prime, he killed an elk 33 miles from his den and then ran home in six hours, his belly full of meat to throw up to feed his pups. That meant a mile round trip in rough country—with a vigorous elk hunt in the middle.
In the spring and summer, when the snow has melted and elk have left the hills, wolves diversify their diets, eating deer, rodents, and whatever else they can get. Pickings are slim, except down in the valleys, near all those irresistible bone piles. In early spring, when the pups are hungry, much of the game is found in lowland pastures, sharing grass with cattle.
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The pack killed its first calf on May 6, By the end of May, five were dead. But just as the ODFW began handing out permits to local ranchers allowing them to shoot stock-killing wolves on sight—and calling the U. Everything got quiet for a while.
The snows came and went. More pups were born. The next year, in May of , the pack—now totaling about 15—started killing calves again, and the ODFW decided to kill two members to reduce the number of mouths OR4 had to feed. ODFW staffers set out traps and went on the hunt with guns. Morgan found this print and set a trap directly on top of it. As he thought might happen, OR4 himself was caught. For the next five years, the ODFW often knew exactly where he was, to within meters.
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But there were gaps, because OR4 was very hard on collars. He probably banged them against rocks and logs during chases, maybe took an occasional elk hoof right in the neck. In an attempt to pacify angry ranchers across the West, the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife established a fund in to compensate producers who lost animals to wolves—but only if a state agency ruled that the death was clearly caused by one.
Later, the state of Oregon set up its own fund. Morgan was integral to this system. He started posting official reports of his depredation investigations after local ranchers began to contest his findings. Over time, as the workload got to be too much, Morgan took on an assistant: Roblyn Brown, a methodical, capable field biologist with a passion for advanced data analysis. She became his heir apparent as wolf coordinator. Sometimes, the kills Morgan was called out on were old, especially when the victims were animals out grazing on public land.
The carcass consisted mostly of bones and a large piece of hide, with muscle remaining for examination only on the head, neck, and lower legs. There were signs that it had been chased downhill, and purple bruising on the carcass indicated hemorrhaging under the skin before death—from those crushing, blunt teeth. Sometimes the kills were fresh, the evidence overwhelming. One morning in December of , a rancher heard the alarm sound on a telemetry receiver that Morgan had given him, to alert him when OR4 was in the area.
He could hear the wolves howling, and when he found a dead cow, it was still warm. Maggots were present in large numbers. There was scavenging coyote tracks were present on the right side of the head and around anus. There was no evidence of a predator attack. The cause of death of the cow is unknown, but unrelated to predation. No matter what Morgan found, and despite the fact that wolf losses represented a tiny fraction of livestock mortality, the ranchers stayed angry. This took a toll. He spent many a day and night up on a hill in the valley with the telemetry setup, so they could haze wolves heading into the valley.
In , he started working to do away with bone piles. Today, the Wallowa County landfill takes cattle carcasses for free. Despite his efforts, in the fall of , OR4 and his family killed once too often, a calf taken down near Griffith Creek on private land. GPS data placed OR4 at the scene. According to the wolf plan, chronically depredating wolves were to be killed, even though wolves were still on the state endangered species list.
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He had to go. He knew wolves would be controversial. This practice is as hot a potato as you can find in the West, up there with who gets water and how much timber to cut. The ODFW Commission, which wrote the plan, explains in the preamble that it has no authority over grazing issues. Put another way: the price of having wolves is killing wolves. It was this plan that Morgan now carried out. Morgan put his rifle on a bipod uphill from the stand and sent Brown around the back to flush the wolves toward him.
He heard movement—wolves approaching. He rotated his head to scan down the face of the pines, and when he looked back, OR4 was standing right in front on him, completely exposed. Brown emerged from the pines and they set up for another try, getting ahead of the collar signal, which was now moving down a canyon.
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It was drizzling and cloudy. Judge has issued a stay. Their central claim was that the state could not legally kill an animal on the Oregon endangered species list. They also convinced the Oregon Court of Appeals to issue an emergency stay while their suit went forward.
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OR2, the longtime mate of OR4. Morgan is a believer in the idea that wild animals must be managed as populations. You have to focus on the task at hand and get it done, desensitize yourself. It is what we signed up for when we did the wolf plan. With OR4 and his pack safe for the time being, Morgan continued to investigate depredations and tried to keep a working collar on his alpha. Life went on. One of his sons, OR7, traveled all the way to California in December of , briefly becoming an international celebrity. Another, OR9, went to Idaho and was shot by a hunter with an expired wolf tag.
A fourth, OR12, took over the remote Wenaha pack in and is still the breeding male there. A fifth, OR3, disappeared in and was presumed dead.
https://saticfullra.tk But in the summer of , he showed up on a trail camera in Klamath County, hundreds of miles to the southwest. He found a mate, and they had a single pup. Now the father and son are believed to live together near Silver Lake, in Lake County. As for OR4, in March of , he was tranquilized from a helicopter again and re-collared. Every spring, new pups were born; every year, older offspring dispersed. The pack dined mostly on elk, but occasionally on calves.
New rules were incorporated into the wolf plan. The threshold for killing a wolf was explicitly spelled out, and it would get lower and lower as the wolf population expanded.
After these changes were in place, the Imnaha pack somehow skirted the line, never quite taking enough livestock to earn a death sentence.