Thursday, October 6, 2016

Wolf, cougar management plans under review



ODFW REVIEW
 
State seeks public input for species 

By Hilary Corrigan / The Bulletin

Oregon wildlife officials will collect ideas to manage wolves and cougars and will discuss stakeholders’ proposals so far — such as hunting and trapping wolves — during a Friday meeting in La Grande.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting comes as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife evaluates plans that describe measures to conserve and manage the two species and resolve any conflicts with the animals. The required reviews do not necessarily mean that updates to the two plans will occur, although newer scientific data and numbers will likely get incorporated. The commission will not vote Friday but may offer guidance to department staff.

The meeting is a “way to sort of have an open, public discussion with our commission” prior to the drafting of a plan, said Russ Morgan, the department’s wolf program coordinator.

The department could offer a draft wolf management plan in December, and the commission could approve it early next year.

“Clearly, wolf management is a very large and complex social undertaking,” Morgan said. “It’s not just a biological undertaking.”

He noted the varied reactions that people have on wolves and how the agency tries to balance such viewpoints — and the chance for meetings like this to provide specific information, opinions and ideas and for the agency to consider the bigger policy issues involved.

“Science sometimes answers questions like, ‘What is?’ but it doesn’t necessarily answer questions like, ‘What should be?’” Morgan said.

The state adopted the wolf plan in 2005 and last updated it in 2010. No wolves were known to live in the state in 2005, but by the end of 2015 Oregon had at least 110 wolves in 12 packs, including 11 breeding pairs, according to the department. Last year, the commission removed state endangered status for wolves across all of Oregon.

As part of the wolf plan review, the department laid out several main issues that have come up so far while collecting input. They include proposals to change population number goals, establish population management areas with population goals, hunt and trap wolves as a management tool, change the standards that allow the killing of wolves in response to livestock depredation, and start a wolf advisory group as a way help “resolve long-term and deep-rooted social conflicts” related to wolf management.

Another big issue in the review involves whether the plan should allow for more flexibility around killing wolves in response to livestock conflicts; and whether the plan should create a third-party review process for disputed livestock depredation investigations.

Staff analysis has laid out suggestions on some issues for this planning cycle. On hunting, for instance, staff suggests maintaining the current approach that allows controlled hunting and trapping in certain situations that require a response. General season or population-control hunting would not be allowed. On the advisory group idea, staff supported creating it to improve dialogue among groups.

“Staff has observed a trend of increasing tension among some stakeholder groups, primarily related to the issue of any kind of lethal take,” according to department information.

Meanwhile, the cougar plan, created in 1987, was last updated in 2006. Department data from 2015 estimates 6,372 cougars through Oregon.

Cougars have a strong population that is stable and expanding, according to Derek Broman, canivore/furbearer program coordinator at the department.

“We’re in a good place now,” Broman said.

Like Morgan, Broman also seeks public testimony from the Friday meeting and aims to get most comments soon, with a first draft of the cougar plan out in the summer and a commission vote next fall or winter. This year, the plan likely does not need to be revamped, just streamlined and updated to incorporate new research information that can help guide management of the species and to direct new research, Broman said. The plan’s framework is still sound, he said. That includes the goals of ensuring the population does not fall below 3,000 individuals statewide; reducing any cougar conflict with people, pets and livestock through management actions; and managing mountain lions in concert with other wildlife like elk, deer and bighorn sheep that are hunted.

“Those points are still very relevant today,” Broman said. “The plan has been working.”

Issues that groups will likely focus on during this planning round include “target areas,” which are areas for contracted government agents to kill cougars using dogs and traps in order to benefit livestock, deer and big horn sheep populations or to enhance human safety. Various stakeholders want to change, expand or eliminate them.

Broman noted that hunting rules follow the plan and that the department already has the chance every year to restrict or expand hunting in certain areas if necessary based on population numbers, for instance. Cougar management activities occur daily, including those related to hunting, conservation and research.

“The plan is kind of the foundation that everything is based on,” he said, encouraging public feedback to help guide that policy and ensure a “solid, functional, useful cougar plan.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, hcorrigan@bendbulletin.com
 

Northwestern wolves

A few issues ODFW is considering during its review of the state’s management plan for wolves:
• Whether to use hunting and trapping as a management tool
• Whether to change criteria for killing wolves when they prey on livestock
• Whether to continue requiring nonlethal control measures before killing wolves when they prey on livestock
• Whether to start a wolf advisory group to help with dialogue on wolf issues