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By Andrew Theen
Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has “lost its way” and the state’s plan for managing wolves has veered off course, according to leaders from 18 environmental nonprofit groups.
The environmental coalition sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday asking her to be more involved in the agency’s affairs as it works to finalize a new version of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, which advocates say is two years overdue.
The letter comes one day after state officials confirmed two additional wolves from the Harl Butte pack in County will be killed after the state said the animals killed livestock. Last week, the state confirmed it killed two animals from the pack in response to ranchers’ concerns.
“The Harl Butte situation again calls into question the effectiveness of killing wolves and demonstrates the need for clearer sideboards around what non-lethal actions must be attempted before trapping and shooting of wolves will be allowed,” the coalition said in the letter.
The Harl Butte pack lives in the same area where the state also killed four members of the Imnaha Pack in March 2016. That’s the pack from which OR7, the state’s famous wandering wolf, is descended. All the killings will come at the request of livestock owners, who say the wolves are killing cattle.
Brown’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The environmental groups say killing wolves is “expensive, dangerous and controversial” and bucks scientific research, which shows removing an animal from a pack actually increases conflicts with livestock.
“This has played out in Oregon and Washington where livestock conflict and wolf killing efforts have occurred in the same areas year after year,” the group said.
An investigation by The Seattle Times delved into the situation involving the Profanity Peak pack in Northeast Washington. That pack was removed after repeated conflicts with livestock, but opponents say the livestock were placed in the area in order to provoke attacks.
On Thursday, Oregon Fish and Wildlife officials said in a statement that the livestock deaths continued despite significant effort. “Removal of the two wolves, increased human presence in this area and continued use of non-lethal deterrents by livestock producers did not result in a significant change in the pack’s behavior,” the state said.
Environmental leaders also criticize ODFW for not being transparent about “when, how and which wolves are killed.”
“For an agency that exists to serve the people of Oregon, this is simply unacceptable,” the letter states.
ODFW said it disagreed, and that it updated its website and alerted the media and stakeholders on Thursday. The agency will continue to post about conflicts with wolves and livestock online, a spokeswoman said.
“As wolves continue to expand in both number and range, we recognize that actions like these will become more routine,” the statement said, regarding the Harl Butte kills. “We are evaluating our communications strategy so it is streamlined and does not overburden our staff. Much wolf work is done in remote areas, without cell service, and expecting constant updates is not realistic. Our field staff need to do their job.”
ODFW estimates the pack has eight adults and juveniles and three pups.