By Kelly House | The Oregonian/OregonLive
October 09, 2015
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will wait until November to decide whether to move forward with a process to remove wolves from the state endangered species list.
That's the news that came out of a commission meeting Friday, during which Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff presented an update on the gray wolf's recovery in Oregon.
The presentation included staff projections for what would happen to wolf populations in Oregon if they remained on the list, lost protections statewide, or lost protections in the eastern part of the state where most of Oregon's wolves roam.
In all three scenarios, Oregon's small but growing wolf population was expected to continue growing more numerous and widely-distributed across the state.
After lengthy public testimony by some 50 people, the commissioners gave no indication about which option they might pick. They're expected to make that decision at their Nov. 9 meeting.
Oregon's small but growing gray wolf population reached a milestone this year, going three straight years with four or more breeding pairs in the state. Under the state's wolf management plan, that triggers a review of the animals' protected status.
Oregon was once home to a large wolf population, but the animals were eradicated from the state in the mid-20th century against a backdrop of state-sponsored bounty hunting. Since wolves re-established in Oregon after crossing the border from Idaho in 2008, the state's known wolf population has grown to 85, not including pups born this year.
The decision of whether or not to remove wolves from the endangered list has become one of the most politically-charged issues on the commission's docket.
Commissioners are under immense pressure from groups on both sides of the debate, with ranchers pushing for permission to kill wolves and conservationists arguing existing protections are too lax.
The Oregon Cattlemen's Association, which represents the livestock industry, has lobbied for a delisting for years, with some arguing Oregon should have no wolves at all. Predators pose a threat to their livelihood, ranchers say, and they want the ability to shoot them in defense of their herds.
It's illegal to shoot a wolf in Oregon except under special circumstances.
Meanwhile, wildlife advocates argue 85 wolves in a state the size of Oregon does not constitute a healthy population. If the state removes protections, they argue, existing problems with poaching could grow worse. Police have investigated five wolf poaching incidents since wolves returned to the state, but have made no arrests.
The fish and wildlife department has received thousands of public comments in matter, most in support of continued protections for Oregon's wolves.
If wolves leave the list, little will change about way wolves are treated in Oregon. The Oregon Wolf Plan would still govern who can kill wolves, and when.
A 10-year review of the plan is scheduled to begin once commissioners rule on wolves' protected status in Oregon. That review could lead to significant changes in the way wildlife officials manage Oregon's wolves.