Thursday, November 12, 2015

Oregon wolves: still endangered?

By Sean Bassinger, Senior Beat Reporter
Posted: Monday, November 9, 2015

Oregon reconsidering endangered status of wolves
Moving Oregon’s gray wolves from the endangered species list would not change their fate in terms of legal hunting, though it could still have a significant impact in terms of the state’s overall plan for managing their population.

Early on Monday, the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (ODFW) commission met to decide if the Oregon grey wolf would be removed from the endangered species list. The meeting’s agenda references a suggestion to delist the wolves following a biological status review of the wolves, however, the results of the vote had not yet been released as of Monday evening at 6 p.m..
The commission’s consideration has caught the attention of many across the state, including scientists at Oregon State University. Among them is professor Michael Nelson, who helped draft a letter to the ODFW commission in an effort to have them reconsider their suggestion.
Nelson, who previously worked in Michigan and Idaho, said the processes in the past have commonly boiled down to political decisions. Currently, there are a little more than 80 wolves in Oregon.
“As of right now, (grey wolves) only occupy about 12 percent of what ODFW themselves say is their suitable range,” Nelson said. “That’s not all or a significant portion of their suitable range.”
The letter, which also includes Jeremy T. Bruskotter from Ohio State University and John A. Vucetich from Michigan Technological University, outlines how the law requires delisting to be based on the “best-available science,” though makes mention of the fact that the analysis’ “Updated biological status review for the Gray Wolf (Canis Lupus)” was not peer reviewed.

“I’ve lived in places where these wolves have come back and one of the things I’ve seen kind of repeatedly is we move really quick on these things sometimes,” Nelson said. “We make mistakes. We don’t delist on the basis of the best available science that we’re obligated to or the right interpretation of law.”
Bill Ripple, professor and director of the Trophic Cascades Program at OSU, helped conduct a study with former forestry graduate student Ted Larsen in 2006 that helped estimate the number of wolves the state could eventually house.
“There’s enough habitat for 1,400 wolves in Oregon,” Ripple said.
In comparison, Ripple said there are more than 2,000 wolves in Northern Minnesota, around 636 in Michigan and 660 in Wisconsin. The Rocky Mountain wolf population, which consists of those found in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, consists of at least 1,657 wolves in around 282 packs.
“It comes down to the fact that there are different stakeholders involved in the Oregon political process,” Ripple said. “So there’s conversationists and there’s ranchers and there’s hunters, so I think it’s going to be up to the citizens of the state.”
On an ecological level, Ripple said the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park allowed for the reintroduction of vegetation such as aspen, cottonwood and willow. The ecological shift further contributed to an increase in beaver and songbird populations.
“When the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park, their numbers grew rapidly and were allowed to grow rapidly,” Ripple said. “The wolves are having a profound influence on resources in Yellowstone.”
The shift in wolf and other carnivore populations could also impact disease levels in the state, according to Taal Levi, an assistant professor from the College of Agricultural Sciences.
“As carnivore committees change, rodents may become more or less abundant and that may have implications for diseases,” Levi said.
Unlike other areas, Levi mentioned how there are far more stakeholders involved with the discussions in Oregon, which makes the recent commission decisions and discussions that much more unique.
“I think that’s what this conflict is really about,” he said. “Unlike Yellowstone, you have a lot of other competing users of public land that don’t really want the wolf population high enough to achieve those ecological consequences.”
As recent as Nov. 6, reports in the Klamath Falls Herald and News highlighted the death of one rancher’s calf and the injury of two others when the gray wolf identified as OR-25 was tracked as being around the same location.
“The wolves just arrived in Western Oregon, so it’s not a common occurrence yet by any means,” Levi said.
Levi said the most common predators of livestock include a variety of animals such as coyotes, dogs, wolves and other carnivores depending on the region.
“Most people want to know if we have enough wolves to justify delisting,” Levi said. “It doesn’t seem like a scientific question as much as it’s about value or what we want. I’m not sure we’re necessarily having that conversation.”
In terms of continued discussion and state management plans, Ripple said it boils down to what he described as “ecological efficiency.”
“It’s up to the people of Oregon and the policy makers as to how many wolves will be here,” Ripple said.