Courtesy of ODFW A pup of the Wenaha wolf pack is seen howling during summer 2014 in Wallowa County.
Ranchers and the Oregon Farm Bureau believe wolves should be taken off the state endangered species list, but conservation groups say it's way too early for that decision.
Livestock ranchers and farm groups approached the April 24 meeting of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission with a clear mindset: Oregon’s rapidly-growing wolf population has increased to the point that gray wolves can be removed from the state endangered species list.
Given the emotion and politics of the issue, however, they didn’t necessarily expect a decision that day. The commission, facing a crowd in which delisting opponents were the majority, asked ODFW staff to come back with information beyond the 64-page biological status review they had in front of them.
The commission wanted more information on the options of delisting wolves in the eastern half of the state, in the entire state, or taking no action. It may be September before staff reports back.
The state’s wolf plan calls for beginning the delisting process when the state has at least four breeding pairs for three consecutive years. Oregon reached that standard at the end of 2014, when eight breeding pairs were counted. Four breeding pairs were confirmed in 2013 and six in 2012.
Ranchers, who with some compensation available bear the cost of livestock attacks and non-lethal defensive measures, expected ODFW to begin drafting rules for delisting. Generally, delisting would give livestock producers more leeway to shoot wolves in order to protect cattle, sheep and guard dogs.
Follow the plan, multiple speakers told the commission during its meeting in Bend.
“We lived up to our promise,” said rancher Todd Nash, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. “We wholly expect the agency and this committee to live up to theirs.”
Nash said later he favors statewide delisting of wolves. A partial delisting in only the eastern portion invites complication and lawsuits, he said.
Courtesy of ODFW An ODFW biologist in the process of collaring wolf OR33, a 2-year-old adult male from the Imnaha pack, Feb. 25, 2015 in Wallowa County. Larger wild animals are typically blindfolded while immobilized to protect eyes and to help calm them.
“I think it will delay the process, and I’m not in favor of that,” Nash said.
Meanwhile, conservation groups say the breeding pair count is not an automatic trigger for delisting, and showed up in force to make that point.
Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity, arrived from Petaluma, Calif. Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative with Defenders of Wildlife, traveled over from Boise. Quinn Read, Oregon Wild’s wildlife coordinator, was there from Portland, as was Danielle Moser with the Endangered Species Coalition. Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild’s Northeast Oregon field coordinator, attended from Enterprise.
They said Oregon’s 77 confirmed wolves — ODFW believes there may be 90 to 100 — is far too small a population to loosen protection.
Weiss, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said an outbreak of disease could wipe out packs.
“Science tells us we need vastly more numbers” to assure longterm population viability, she said afterward. By that standard, Oregon needs “on the magnitude of thousands” of wolves, she said.
A 2006 study by Tad Larsen and William Ripple of Oregon State University’s Department of Forest Resources estimated the state could support 1,450 wolves.
Weiss said ODFW has done a good job of making its actions “transparent” to the public in the past couple years.
“It’s brought the hysteria level down,” Weiss said. “There have been no wolves killed. In that time the wolf population doubled. (Confirmed) Depredations have gone down and the hysteria has gone down.”