Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife/AP File Photo
It wasn’t so long ago that wolves were a permanent part of Oregon’s landscape.
Last year, 535,000 people visited Crater Lake.
These numbers were a new record for Oregon’s only national park, and thanks to an advertising campaign by Travel Oregon and the exploding popularity of outdoor recreation in the state, this year’s attendance will likely set a new record.
While the natural beauty of Crater Lake has long delighted visitors, lucky park-goers have only recently been treated to an encounter that would have been unthinkable of five, 10, or even 50 years ago: the opportunity to hear the howl of a wolf in the wilderness.
It wasn’t so long ago that wolves were a permanent part of Oregon’s landscape. However, an aggressive, state-sponsored hunting, trapping and poisoning campaign successfully annihilated the population, culminating in 1947 when the last recorded wolf bounty was paid out.
And with that, wolves were gone from Oregon.
It is only recently that wolves have started to re-establish themselves. Oregon’s known wolf population is around 80 adults, almost entirely confined to the Northeast corner of the state. There are, of course, a few notable exceptions. OR-7, Oregon’s world-famous wandering wolf, established the first pack in the Cascade Mountains in nearly 70 years. Other wolves, like OR-3, who recently joined his brother near Crater Lake, or the newly discovered Shasta Pack in California, have also successfully departed from Eastern Oregon. Some, like OR-22 who was tragically shot by a coyote hunter in Malheur County, have not been so successful. And while a great deal of fanfare greets each new, dispersing wolf, the fact of the matter is that these announcements are too infrequent to guarantee more than a token Oregon wolf population.
Despite the tiny number of wolves in the state, and the scarcity of the animals throughout all but a fraction of their suitable habitat, Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife is bowing to pressure from the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and other special interests to remove them from the state’s endangered species list.
They are so eager to mollify a vocal minority and begin reducing protections for gray wolves that they have bypassed incorporating any independent scientific feedback into their plan, an important part of the delisting process and one required by law.
In defiance of Oregon’s Endangered Species Act, the state also relies on wolf populations elsewhere to justify their plan. This rationalization is akin to saying there are plenty of coho salmon in Alaska, so it is acceptable to let them go extinct here.
Moreover, Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to both announce a plan and vote on it during a Monday meeting in Salem, circumventing important public feedback and process.
Oregon’s wolves deserve better, and there is an opportunity here for leadership from Gov. Kate Brown. She should direct Fish and Wildlife to solicit a meaningful and independent scientific review of the delisting report. The agency must then commit to reviewing that science and incorporating it, rather than moving ahead unilaterally despite legitimate criticisms from independent biologists. Bypassing scientific review only serves to delegitimize ODFW and its wildlife management work.
The governor should also call upon her wildlife commission to allow a full public process to play out before voting on a final delisting plan.
Wolves are only now regaining their rightful place as a fixture of Oregon’s wilderness. Now is not the time to declare “mission accomplished” and turn our backs on their recovery. The success of Oregon’s wolves to this point has relied on an adherence to science, public process, and the law. We are currently on a course that undermines all of these vital aspects.
If we are to make good on our sins of the past, to acknowledge wolves their place on the Oregon landscape and to allow future generations the fortune to hear the howl of a wild wolf from the rim of Crater Lake, we must commit ourselves to doing this right.
Steve Pedery is the conservation director for Oregon Wild, a conservation organization representing more than 16,000 members across the state and dedicated to protecting and restoring Oregon’s wildlands, wildlife and waters as an enduring legacy for future generations.