Rewards up the ante for information on OR-59’s killer

So, does anybody know who shot and killed OR-59?

This photo of OR-59 was taken in 2017 just after he was fitted with a GPS collar. He was shot and killed north of Bieber in Modoc County in December 2018. Photo submitted

Maybe someone will come forward as the search for the shooter of that lone Oregon wolf traveling in Northeastern California — the first known killing of a wolf protected under both the California and federal Endangered Species Acts since its return to its ancestral habitat —intensified with the offering of two rewards for information.

Last week the Center for Biological Diversity offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for illegal killing of OR-59, a male yearling wolf that traveled alone 300 miles from Oregon to California in December 2018. The black-furred wolf was born in Northeastern Oregon in April 2017.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also announced a $2,500 reward last week. According to a statement from the CBD, the USFWS reward announcement publicly reveals for the first time that the wolf’s death in 2018 was the result of an unlawful shooting.

Mercury News reports John Heil of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, “We have exhausted our leads.”

“We grieve the senseless and illegal killing of this precious wolf,” said Amaroq Weiss, a West Coast wolf advocate at the CBD. “This loss is a terrible blow to wolf conservation in California. It underscores why our endangered wolves need the strongest possible protection at both state and federal levels.”

According to the statement, OR-59, a 1.5-year-old radio-collared male wolf from Oregon, moved into California in early December 2018.

On Dec. 5, 2018, a rancher observed OR-59 feeding on a calf carcass in northern Lassen County, but an investigation determined the wolf had not killed the calf — investigators believe it died from pneumonia.

On Dec. 9, 2018, after OR-59’s radio collar emitted a mortality signal, state wildlife officers found the wolf dead along County Road 91 just across the Lassen/Modoc county line.

According to a statement on the CDFW website at the time, “This is now under a criminal investigation conducted by wildlife officers from CDFW’s law enforcement division. CDFW takes very seriously any threats to this recovering wolf population, and will investigate fully any possible criminal activity in these deaths.

“CDFW reminds the public that killing a wolf is a potential crime and subject to serious penalties including imprisonment.”

The CDFW did not then report the wolf’s cause of death, but recently revealed the animal had been shot and killed with a .22 caliber weapon.

“We can’t let poachers deny future generations their opportunity to see these incredible animals in the wild,” Weiss said. “Whatever you think of wolves, poaching is wrong and cowardly.

“We hope someone steps forward with information leading to the killer’s prosecution … It’s so important to stop this kind of pattern. Sometimes people think, mistakenly, that they’re killing an animal for the right reasons.”

Officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife declined to comment for this story.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, Sacramento Field Office at (916) 569-8444.

 

Background

California’s wolves were wiped out in the early 1900s by a nationwide, government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry.

Wolves began to return to Oregon and Washington in the 2000s, and in 2011, a wolf from Oregon — the famous OR-7, dubbed Journey by a group of California grade-school students — made his way into California, becoming the first confirmed wild wolf here in nearly 90 years.

Since then several other wolves have ventured into California from Oregon.

Gray wolves are protected as an endangered species under state and federal law. The maximum penalty for violating the federal Endangered Species Act is one year in jail and a $100,000 fine per individual.

Fewer than a dozen known wolves now live in California, including a few lone wolves and the Lassen Pack.

The Lassen Pack was confirmed in 2017 and ranges through Lassen and Plumas counties.

Mercury News reports OR-59’s ancestors were among the 35 wolves from Canada introduced into Central Idaho and Wyoming in 1995 and 1996.

The seven-member, all-black Shasta pack, California’s first in nearly 100 years, disappeared from Siskiyou County amid fears of poaching within months after its discovery in 2015, following the pack’s implication in two livestock episodes.

Mercury News reports the Lassen Pack has produced 13 pups over the last three years.

There are an estimated 6,000 wolves in the West and the Great Lakes areas. Oregon has at least 137 wolves, and Washington has 126 wolves.