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Decision would make lethal control possible for stock depredation; a controversial move

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Wolves in Oregon remain protected under the state's Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally removed most gray wolves in the lower 48 from the Endangered Species List, which turns management over to state fish and wildlife agencies including ODFW.

In Oregon, wolves west of Highways 395-78-95 had remained on the federal ESA when the area east of this boundary was delisted in 2011.

While U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was the lead agency in the western two-thirds of the state, ODFW has always played a significant role in wolf conservation and management statewide since wolves began to re-establish themselves in Oregon in the 2000s. 

Wolves in Oregon remain protected under the state's Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan (Plan). The Plan is the product of enormous public, stakeholder, and scientific input and has already led to substantial conservation accomplishments since it was first adopted in 2005.

Oregon's known wolf count has grown from 14 wolves in 2009 to 158 at the end of 2019. The 2020 count is happening now, and updated numbers will be available in spring 2021.

How will wolf management change in Oregon?

Wolves remain protected throughout the state. Hunting and trapping of wolves remains prohibited statewide.

Under the state's Plan, wolves in Oregon's West Wolf Management Zone (west of Highways 97-20-395) are in Phase 1, the conservation phase of recovery. (There are fewer than four breeding pairs of wolves in this Zone). Wolves east of that boundary (East Wolf Management Zone) are in Phase 3 of wolf recovery.

According to the 2019 minimum wolf count, there are 17 known wolves including three packs in the West Wolf Management Zone and 141 known wolves including 19 packs in the East Wolf Management Zone.

The major change from federal delisting is that under the state's Wolf Plan, lethal control could be allowed in situations of chronic livestock depredation when non-lethal measures have been unsuccessful at eliminating conflict. However, a number of other criteria must also be met, see the rule for details.

The rules guiding lethal removal of wolves in Phase 1 are the outcome of a 2013 settlement agreement between Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, Center for Biological Diversity, ODFW and the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

Among other criteria, Phase 1 rules require ODFW to create an Area of Depredating Wolves (ADW) after a pack has depredated. This alerts livestock owners to focus non-lethal measures where there is the most risk to livestock. The agency also creates a Conflict Deterrence Plan, identifying appropriate tools area landowners can use to reduce conflict.

Legal action

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision is not without controversy. The Western Environmental Law Center, a conservation group, announced Thursday that a coalition of Western wolf advocates is legally challenging the decision to "prematurely strip wolves of federal protections in the contiguous 48 states, in violation of the Endangered Species Act."

"Wolves are a keystone species whose presence on landscapes regulates animal populations and improves ecosystem health — something the Service has acknowledged for at least 44 years," said Kelly Nokes, Western Environmental Law Center attorney. "Allowing people to kill wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana has already stunted recovery in those states. Applying this same death sentence to wolves throughout the contiguous U.S. would nationalize these negative effects, with potentially catastrophic ripple effects on ecosystems where wolves have yet to fully recover."

John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center general counsel, said that wolf recovery is "still precarious on the West Coast," and stressed that there are "only a handful of wolves in California, western Oregon and western Washington.

"A rush to delist the species across the entire country runs counter to the Service's own peer review, and tells West Coast states that wolf recovery in their part of the country does not matter," he continued. "We look forward to presenting the science to a federal court.


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