HALFWAY, Ore. — Larry Aguilar happened to be upstairs on the computer when he heard the commotion outside at his Eastern Oregon ranch.
It was about 7 a.m. on March 12 when Aguilar, 66, looked out the window and saw four wolves chasing his cow dog just 15 yards away from the house. Reacting immediately, he grabbed his rifle, ran downstairs and bolted out the side door.
“The first wolf I saw, I shot him,” Aguilar said. “Having pulled the trigger on an animal you know is federally protected, it’s like, ‘Oh no, here we go.’”
Aguilar shot the wolf — a male juvenile from the Pine Creek pack — two more times to make sure it was dead. He then called Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which arrived at the ranch near Halfway, east of Baker City, to investigate.
ODFW removed wolves from the state Endangered Species List in 2015, allowing them to be killed under specific circumstances east of highways 395, 78 and 95. Gray wolves are still a federally protected species in the western two-thirds of Oregon.
As of 2018, Oregon has at least 137 known wolves and 16 packs, though most of the population remains concentrated in the northeast corner of the state.
The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan does allow ranchers to kill wolves on private property if caught in the act of biting, wounding or chasing livestock and working dogs. Baker County District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff determined Aguilar was justified in shooting the wolf.
“He did what you’re supposed to do,” Shirtcliff said. “This was in defense of property, and he did it right.”
Just three weeks earlier, Aguilar had another experience with wolves on the ranch. He and his wife awoke at 3 a.m. to hear howling, prompting Aguilar to stand outside in 2 feet of snow with his rifle and fire warning shots into the air, protecting his cows that were calving in the nearby paddocks.
Aguilar said he fired between 25 and 30 shots, and still the wolves remained, unfazed by the warnings. Wildlife managers told him there were nine wolves on the ranch that night.
“The reality is, when there’s nine wolves on your place, you obviously have a problem,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar recalled one other wolf sighting on the ranch during another heavy winter in mid-February three years ago. He said the animal initially looked like a Shetland pony in his mind. Like the others, it did not seem bothered by a warning shot fired over its back to scare it away.
Those past experiences are what prompted Aguilar to take lethal action this time, he said, before the wolves could kill his dog.
“When I saw what I saw, I knew I was going to do,” he said. “I thought I was within my rights.”
The Pine Creek pack has repeatedly preyed on livestock in the past. In 2018, ODFW shot three wolves from the pack after five confirmed attacks, killing four calves and injuring another six at two separate ranches roughly 5-6 miles apart.
Aguilar said he does not blame the wolves for targeting easy prey, but believes changes need to be made in management to avoid future conflicts.
ODFW released a draft of its much-anticipated and long-overdue Wolf Plan Revision on April 15. The plan in part addresses wolf attacks on livestock, population monitoring and potential conservation threats. It does not propose any hunting of wolves, but maintains the ability to kill wolves that repeatedly prey on livestock.
“It’s a darn shame when these animals have to be shot like that,” Aguilar said. “At what point are they going to be managed appropriately?”