Story updated at 12:15 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 15
A $50,000 reward is now being offered for information regarding the poisoning of eight wolves in Eastern Oregon. The eight wolves, including all five members of the Catherine pack, were found dead earlier this year.
The reward money comes from environmental groups and nonprofits who have contributed funds in hopes of receiving information that will lead to a citation or arrest in the wolf killings.
"Poisoning is a horrific way to die and shows a blatant disregard of respect that we should have for our wolves and all wildlife," said Marc Cooke, president of the non-profit Wolves of the Rockies.
The reward is offered through the Turn In Poachers Line. The TIP Line is a partnership between state police, wildlife officials, conservation groups and hunting organizations, in an attempt to protect wildlife and stop poaching throughout Oregon.
"We are furious and appalled. 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," said Sristi Kamal, senior northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
In a press release, state wildlife officials said members of the public are welcome to donate to the reward fund. They also ask that anyone with information about the poisonings report it to the TIP Line: 800-452-7888 or *OSP (*677).
If state law enforcement officials are unable to find the perpetrators, the money raised will be used to fund future rewards against poaching.
Oregon State Police are searching for suspects after confirming that eight wolves were poisoned in Eastern Oregon this year.
Police said they've exhausted all leads in the deaths of members of the Catherine Wolf Pack southeast of Mount Harris in Union County.
Killing wolves with poison is a class C felony, punishable by 5 years imprisonment and $125,000 fines, wildlife officials said. Additional charges could add additional years in jail and fines.
Environmental groups have offered a $21,000 reward for information leading to arrest and prosecution of the wolf poacher.
Oregon is home to at least 173 wolves scattered across the state, according to the most recent estimate from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The case represents the largest single incident of wolf poaching in Oregon by far. Since wolves began returning to Oregon in 1999, three total wolves have died due to poison previously, and in two of the cases it's unclear or unlikely that the poisoning was intentional.
(See bottom of story for previous incidents).
Historically, poison was used to eradicate wolves across the West in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
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Wolves remain controversial in Eastern Oregon and Union County.
This year has seen an uptick in wolf attacks on livestock, according to a report from the Capital Press, indicating that "87 animals were killed or injured by wolves, including 51 cattle, 28 sheep, six goats and two guard dogs," the newspaper reported.
In 2018, after a man pleaded guilty to shooting a wolf caught in a trap, Union County Union District Attorney Kelsie McDaniel said:
"This case highlights the fact that the problem with wolves is not going away," McDaniel said. "We are seeing more and more incidents of wolf predation and human interaction in Union County. This issue has long been a challenge for local ranchers, and with the number of wolves in the area more visible, people engaging in recreation are having dangerous and accidental encounters as well."
The environmental groups putting up the reward include Oregon Wild, the Humane Society of the US, Defenders of Wildlife, Northeast Oregon Ecosystems, Cascadia Wildlands, Predator Defense and Wild Earth Guardians.
“A majority of Oregonians are disgusted by poachers and those who would indiscriminately poison and kill wildlife," said Danielle Moser, wildlife program coordinator for Oregon Wild. "Unfortunately, there remains a persistent culture of poaching in Oregon."
Eight wolves poisoned beginning Feb. 2021
Oregon State Police sent out the following news release Thursday morning asking for public help.
On February 9, 2021, Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division Troopers received information from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) regarding a possibly deceased, collared wolf. Troopers responded to the area and located five deceased wolves, three males and two females. It was later determined the wolves were from the Catherine Pack, with all known members present and deceased. The wolves were located southeast of Mount Harris, within Union County. Fish and Wildlife Troopers and ODFW personnel with the assistance of a helicopter searched the area for anything of evidentiary value. An additional deceased magpie was also found in the vicinity of the deceased wolves.
The five wolves and magpie were collected and transported to the US Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab located in Ashland, Oregon, to determine the cause of death.
On March 11, 2021, Fish and Wildlife Troopers again received information from ODFW personnel of an additional wolf collar emitting a mortality signal in the same general location. A search of the area located a deceased female wolf, a skunk and a magpie all very close to the scene. All animals were collected and immediately submitted to the USFWS lab for testing. The female wolf was dispersing from the Keating Pack.
Fish and Wildlife Troopers were initially hampered in investigating the scene due to snow levels and inclement weather. Troopers continued searching over the next few weeks as snow continued to melt and located evidence of suspected poisoning. The evidence was submitted for testing and analysis.
In April 2021, the USFWS submitted their examination reports with findings consistent with poisoning as the cause of death for all six wolves, the skunk, and two magpies. Lab results also indicated the suspected evidence confirmed a poisonous substance.
In addition, two more collared wolves were found deceased in Union County after the initial incidents.
In April 2021, a deceased adult male wolf from the Five Points Pack was located west of Elgin and in July 2021, a young female wolf from the Clark Creek Pack was located northeast of La Grande. In both cases, the cause of death was not readily apparent, a necropsy and testing were conducted. Toxicology reports confirmed the presence of differing types of poison in both wolves. Based upon the type of poison and locations, it was determined the death of the young female wolf may be related to the earlier six poisonings.
Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Troopers have continued in their investigation in the intervening months but have exhausted leads in the case. OSP is asking any person with information related to this investigation to contact the Oregon State Police through the OSP TIP Hotline: 1-800-452-7888 or *OSP (677) or TIP E-Mail: TIP@state.or.us. Please reference Case #SP21-033033.
Previous wolves killed by poison in Oregon
2016: One wolf that died had a rodent in its stomach and the wolf tested positive for a chemical that is poisonous to animals.
2017: One wolf died after encountering an M-44, a spring-activated device containing poison, which was placed by USDA Wildlife Services (WS) to control coyotes on private land.
2015: One wolf death was attributed to poison.
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Reward up to $50,000 for tips on 8 wolves poisoned in Eastern Oregon