Saturday, January 7, 2012

CSI – The Gray Wolf Edition

emerald isle druid/Flickr
A panel report on how the state investigates possible wolf depredations will be presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission today. It addresses the controversy over how Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been less likely to confirm wolf kills than the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services.
A panel of wildlife experts has reviewed several cases in northeast Oregon where wolves were suspected of killing livestock – including several where state officials disagreed with federal officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s division of Wildlife Services.
The panel’s report is being presented today at the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. Its findings speak to an ongoing debate over who should decide whether wolves are responsible for dead livestock.
Though it didn’t say who’s right – ODFW or Wildlife Services – the panel did conclude that it was hard to figure out how Wildlife Services reached its decisions because the agency reports lacked details.
Oregon now has a fund that will pay ranchers for the livestock damage caused by protected gray wolves. And ODFW’s conclusion determines whether or not a rancher is reimbursed for the loss. But meanwhile federal wildlife officials are making determinations of their own – and they’re blaming wolves more often.
The panel was made up of four ODFW officials, one biologist from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, one federal Wildlife Services official, one official from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Carter Niemeyer, a well-known independent wildlife expert from Idaho. Here’s what they found:
  • ODFW decisions were consistent with the evidence collected: “ODFW appeared to be very thorough in their collection of available evidence during each investigation of suspected wolf depredations before making a final determination.”
  • Wildlife Services wolf depredation decisions were confusing and needed more discussion: “The Panel found it difficult to understand how WS investigators reached their conclusions from their written reports.  The panel recommended ODFW leadership and WS discuss the lack of detail in WS investigation reports.”
  • Even if there’s no evidence of a wolf kill, state officials should collect biological samples to determine what actually killed the livestock in question: “Though the Panel acknowledged the implications of extremely detailed investigations and the precedence that this may set … it was agreed that in some cases it may help reduce controversy associated with conflicting opinions.”
  • ODFW should change its “possible/unknown” wolf depredation label to something that better represents the evidence found in the case, for example “highly improbable.”
  • Oregon officials can’t stop other entities from investigating a livestock loss, but they should treat their investigation sites as crime scenes:
“The Panel recognized that ODFW does not have exclusive authority to investigate, but
rather ODFW is present at the invitation of the landowner or livestock producer.  However, the Panel recommended that ODFW assess the investigation site as a crime scene, including that the more people that have direct access to the site, the higher the potential for lost or tainted evidence.”
A pro-ranching group in Wallowa County has made a video that highlights some of the more controversial livestock loss decisions.
And Kay Tiesel, executive director of Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, has asked the Fish and Wildlife Commission to add a third-party expert or panel as a tie-breaker when state and federal officials disagree. Some ranchers have questioned whether ODFW is biased because the agency is also responsible for protecting wolves.
In this Associated Press story, wolf advocate Sean Stevens of Oregon Wild said he thinks the state panel report brings federal officials’ credibility into question.