Wolf pups born to wandering wolf OR-7 and his mate peek out from behind a log in the Rogue-Siskyou National Forest. OR-7's travels earned cheers from wolf-lovers around the globe.
on November 09, 2015
The gray wolf has lost its place on the Oregon endangered species list.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Monday voted to remove the animal from the list in a move that changes little about current wolf management but opens up the possibility for a controlled wolf hunt in the future.
In a 4-2 vote following a marathon daylong meeting, commissioners signaled agreement with a staff recommendation to remove endangered species act protections for all of Oregon's 81 known gray wolves.
Several commissioners said they would have preferred to remove the animals from the list only in Eastern Oregon, where most of them reside. However, state statute only makes room for statewide endangered species decisions.
Commissioners directed Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff to work with lawmakers to
consider a bill to change that statute. They also directed staff to work on a proposal to increase the legal penalty for killing a wolf.
Currently, the maximum penalty for doing so is up to a year in jail and a $6,250 fine.
"Everyone on this panel cares about the wolf," commission Chairman Michael Finley said of Monday's decision. "I think you can see by asking for increased penalties and our statement about the future regulations that we mean that."
Activists said they are likely to sue over the decision on the grounds that the science behind it didn't undergo an adequate peer review.
The animals reached a population milestone this year -- four breeding pairs for the third straight year -- that triggered a state process to consider removing them from the list.
That process has reignited heated debate about the predators' role in Oregon's ecosystem and economy, pitting conservationists who laud the wolves' crucial role in the ecosystem against ranchers and hunters who argue wolves put too much pressure on livestock and game animals.
State biologists recommended statewide delisting, citing science indicating wolves will continue to grow more numerous and broaden their territory, regardless of whether they stay on the list.
Either way, the animals will remain protected under the Oregon wolf plan, which bans killing wolves except in self defense and in very limited circumstances to defend pets and livestock.
Wolves in western Oregon also are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
State wolf coordinator Russ Morgan characterized wolves' continued expansion in Oregon as a "success story," signaling they are no longer in danger of being eradicated from the state.
Emotions ran high as dozens of wolf advocates and foes lined up to plead their case before the commission. A standing room only crowd of about 200 packed the room.
The lines of allegiance were clearly drawn. On the right side of the room sat wolf advocates, most from western Oregon with several wearing orange T-shirts bearing a wolf's image. Hunting advocates and Eastern Oregon ranchers in cowboy hats sat on the left.
"This is an emotional decision for most, if not all, of you on one side of the issue or another," Finley told audience members. "We are aware of it. We ourselves are subject to similar emotions, but our job is to be objective."
Audience testimony ranged from tearful pleas for continued protections to ominous predictions that continued wolf expansion could result in human fatalities.
Ranchers, hunters and Eastern Oregon politicians urged the state to remove the wolf from the list, arguing keeping it listed would undermine the state management plan and breed resentment from landowners who have waited years for greater latitude to use lethal force to protect their livestock.
Failing to do so could "break the faith with the farmers and ranchers," said Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena.
The plan does not require wolves' removal from the list at any point in time, but it assumes they will no longer be listed once wolves move into a third phase of management.
Conservationists, arguing Monday's decision was premature, noted that plan is up for a mandatory 10-year review that could produce significant changes to the state's management policies.
"Implementers of the plan are subject to the whims of political, economic and social pressures," said Amoroq Weiss, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Advocates also raised concerns about the scientific basis for the state biologists' recommendation and accused the department officials of catering to a "vocal minority" in the hunting and ranching community.
Weiss said conservationists' issues with the science are likely to result in a lawsuit.
State law requires a panel of independent scientists to review any decision to delist an endangered species. The state solicited "courtesy reviews" from four outside scientists after conservationists warned them that failing to obtain a review could be illegal.
Weiss argued the reviews were done too hastily to hold weight and also criticized the department for picking its own reviewers.
Ranchers, on the other hand, accused conservationists of turning their back on a management protocol they agreed to follow before wolves crossed into Oregon from Idaho in 2008.
"You have an obligation to make sure that deal is honored," rancher Cheryl Martin told the commission.