“This is an important step for Oregon. Wolves have now met one of the initial milestones envisioned by the public and the Commission,” said Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator, in a press release. “In the past seven years, Oregon has gone from no known wolves, to resident and reproducing wolves, and now to meeting our conservation objective for the eastern part of the state.”
The process of delisting the gray wolf begins with a full status review by wildlife officials, of which the end result will be presented to the US Fish and Wildlife Service as early as this April. If that occurs, a decision may be made as soon as June. The ODFW and conservation groups have hailed the new step as a major victory for wolf recovery, but not everyone is happy about the species potential delisting. Animal rights groups such as Oregon Wild argue that the wolf packs are still too vulnerable to expose to hunting or being shot as nuisance animals by ranchers.
“We’re still a ways away from meaningful, long-term, sustainable recovery,” Oregon Wild wolf advocate Rob Klavins told OregonLive.com.
Before the latest census, livestock owners and residents of rural areas required a permit to use beanbag guns or other “non-lethal injurious harrassment” methods to deter wolves, and only after the predators have been observed actively injuring livestock. With the wolf management threshold met, ranchers now have more options to defend their property from predators. Todd Nash, chairman of the Oregon’s Cattlemen Association wolf committee, said that delisting will provide ranchers with even greater security.
“For us as cattlemen, we didn’t want wolves here to begin with, but if we are going to have wolves we need to have good controls over problem wolves and this is a step in that direction,” he told KVAL.
ODFW biologists are now working to finalize the 2014 wolf population counts and will be publishing the final report in March. The process to delist gray wolves in the state will also call for public comment.
“The Wolf Plan is working and the wolf population in Oregon expanding as the original crafters of the Plan thought it would,” said Brett Brownscombe, ODFW interim deputy director. “We should embrace this wildlife success as wolves’ return to the Oregon landscape and ensure management approaches are also in place to address the challenges that come with wolves.”
The last of Oregon’s packs to be recognized was the Rouge Pack, which is led by the now famous OR-7. The male wolf had made headlines after it journeyed from Oregon to California in the search of a mate, and later returned to the Cascades to found a new pack. The area where OR-7 and his family now resides is still protected by federal law.
Image courtesy MacNeil Lyons/US Fish and Wildlife Service