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Oregon wolf plan updated, detailing when wolves can be killed
By Zach Urness
A revision and update of the Oregon Wolf Plan was approved by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission on a 6-1 vote Friday.
Debate over the controversial plan lasted the length of the day, bringing together wolf advocates and livestock operators impacted by the slowly expanding carnivores.
The plan, a 160-page document that spells out how the state manages wolves, doesn’t make major changes but does clarify important points, centering on when the state can kill wolves that attack livestock and who does the killing.
“You’re never going to make everyone happy when it comes to wildlife management, but we feel confident that this represents a happy medium,” Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife carnivore coordinator Derek Broman said earlier this week. “There are no monumental changes — it just updates the plan to reflect what we’re dealing with on the ground.”
The latest count by state biologists suggests a minimum number of 137 wolves are currently roaming the state. And while they’re slowly trickling into the state’s western half, the vast majority remain clustered in Oregon’s northeast corner, where attacks on livestock have increased and the issue of when the state should lethally remove them remains a hot button.
In the updated plan, ODFW tweaked the threshold to at least two confirmed livestock depredations within a nine-month period for considering a death sentence for a wolf pack in Eastern Oregon. Previously, it was two attacks over an unlimited amount of time.
Wolves in Western Oregon remain protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.
The plan also addresses whether the public should be allowed to hunt wolves under a special permit in the future.
After more than three years of contentious debate, the plan that governs how Oregon manages its wolf population will finally come to a vote on Friday.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to vote on updates to the Oregon Wolf Plan, a 160-page document that spells out everything from when the state can kill wolves that attack livestock to whether public hunts of wolves should be considered in the future.
Years of negotiations between the ranching, hunting and environmental community failed to produce a plan everyone could agree on, leaving it an open question of whether the Commission will approve revisions to a plan first produced in 2005.
“You’re never going to make everyone happy when it comes to wildlife management, but we feel confident that this represents a happy medium,” Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife carnivore coordinator Derek Broman said. “There are no monumental changes — it just updates the plan to reflect what we’re dealing with on the ground.”
The wolf OR-25 was found dead near Klamath Falls in October.
When can wolves be killed for attacks on livestock?
The latest count by state biologists suggests at least 137 wolves are currently roaming the state. And while they’re slowly trickling into the state’s western half, the vast majority remain clustered in Oregon’s northeast corner, where attacks on livestock have increased and the issue of when the state should lethally remove them remains a hot button.
In the updated plan being voted on Friday, ODFW tweaked the threshold to at least two confirmed livestock depredations within a consecutive nine-month period for considering a death sentence for a wolf pack. Previously, it was two attacks over an unlimited amount of time.
The state stressed that two livestock attacks wouldn’t always lead to a lethal kill order — it was just the beginning of that consideration.
Ranching communities have been frustrated by ODFW being slow to pull the trigger, while the low number of just two attacks prompted protest from pro-wolf environmental groups.
“Two events in any time frame simply don’t constitute a chronic situation,” said Amaroq Weiss with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We believe the threshold of four depredations within six months should be applied.”
Todd Nash with the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association said they wanted consideration for lethal action after one attack on livestock. They also sought more local control that would allow biologists to make quicker calls on lethal removal.
“There are times when you have wolves causing all sort of problems within your livestock and they come in and kill 20 to 30 sheep one night, but that only counts as one depredation,” said Nash, who lives in Enterprise. “You can see the pattern and that non-lethal measures aren’t working, but you’re kind of stuck. And even if you get two confirmed incidents, it can take weeks just to finalize the decision and even longer to get a lethal order.
“You can build the best plan you want, but unless you have livestock operators willing to buy into it, it doesn’t mean anything. And these delays have meant that many ranchers don’t bother calling in anymore. They’ve been through the steps and decided they don’t want to play along because it hasn’t worked.”
Nash said in a rangeland situation, livestock disappeared frequently that were not counted among confirmed attacks.
Using the public to hunt ‘problem wolves’
Among the most controversial topics has been whether ODFW should allow the public to hunt “problem” wolves that prey on livestock or cause a decline in game animals like deer and elk down the line.
Known as controlled take, the plan offers the possibility of using local hunters to kill wolves that have met the criteria for lethal removal.
Environmental groups have strongly objected to the plan, demanding it be stricken from the record.
“ODFW cannot ensure that members of the public will kill the specific offending wolves, will be able to always kill wolves humanely with a clean kill shot and not leave wolves maimed, and will not orphan wolf pups leaving them to starve,” Weiss said. “Second, killing of wolves through state-sanctioned hunting and trapping of wolves by private citizens leads to decreased social tolerance for wolves and increases in wolf poaching.”
Jim Akensen with the Oregon Hunters Association disagrees.
“It’s something that should remain in the plan, not for immediate use, but down the road when Oregon gets to 500 wolves,” he said. “And we say, that’s a great opportunity to use hunters as a tool for managing them — the same way animals are managed statewide — rather than paying Wildlife Services or the agency to do it.”
Capping number of wolves, other notes
Another issue raised by groups representing hunters, ranchers and environmentalists is whether Oregon should apply a cap on the number of wolves living in different parts of the state — or an overall number. The current plan doesn’t include this provision.
“Maybe we’re not to a point where we plug numbers in, but just to lay out zones and say, ‘This is where we expect wolves to establish, here’s what we should think about,” said Nash of the Cattlemen’s Association. “It’s going to be a big challenge, but it’s important to get started.”
Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity said she opposed using Wildlife Services to manage wolves in any capacity.
Overall, both the livestock and environmental groups opposed the plan’s revision.
Akensen, with the Oregon Hunters Association, said he supported the plan.
“It’s not perfect, but I think this plan serves our current moment in time well,” he said. “We’ve mulled this over and over and over for years now. It’s time to move forward.”