Wolf plan approved in Oregon

The gray wolf is still protected in western Oregon, but its status could change federally if USFWS chooses to delist it this summer.

No crying “wolf” here; modifications to Oregon’s state wolf plan have finally been approved.

On June 7, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Commission voted 6-1 to approve long-awaited revisions to the state’s current Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. The original plan was released in 2010 and should have been up for a five-year review in 2015, but revisions weren’t finalized until this year.

Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) Executive Director Jerome Rosa told WLJ the new plan is a step forward for Oregon ranchers, but there is still some work to be done.

“There were parts of the plan we were supportive of and parts that we felt fell well short of where we hoped they would be,” Rosa said. “But we’ve been part of the writing process from the beginning and stayed at the table until the end. We stayed to work on making the plan the best we could for farmers and ranchers.”

One of the revisions to the plan that the association was most supportive of was changing the definition of “chronic depredation.” The new plan will allow lethal action against a wolf after two depredations in nine months. Discussion at the plan hearing included lethal action after three depredations in 12 months and no lethal action allowed at all.

“Two in nine months was definitely an important step for Oregon ranchers and an improvement to what the plan had been previously,” Rosa said. Previously, wolves were able to be killed after two confirmed depredations with no set time limit.

A work in progress

The association had three points of concern on the plan that they emphasized needed to be addressed: management areas; wolf collaring; and local authorization to make depredation calls.

Rosa said one of the considerations the association emphasized was assigning management areas. In northeast Oregon, there are a larger number of wolves compared to the rest of the state, and the association would prefer no uneven population density across the state.

The association wanted population limits assigned to individual management areas so wolf numbers could not exceed those numbers in any given area.

“We didn’t want any one area inundated with a large number of wolves depredating their cattle,” Rosa said.

The second suggestion the association proposed was collaring of wolves, so ranchers could be made aware of when wolves were going to be in the area and alert them of the inherent risk to their cattle.

The final proposition was to allow local authorities to make depredation calls. These authorities could have included county sheriffs or veterinarians.

“What we see happen is sometimes there will be a depredation, maybe on a Friday, and ODFW may not be able to go out onto the investigation until Monday,” Rosa said. “By then, the evidence is no longer viable.”

Rosa said the three suggested revisions were not included in the plan. For the wolf collaring, cost seemed to be the limiting factor, as well as the difficulty to find and catch the wolves.

Regarding the local authorization for depredation calls, Rosa said the environmental groups included in the discussion did not want local authorities involved.

“Many of the folks [at the hearing] were very emotional and sympathetic to the wolf cause,” Rosa said. “They don’t realize this predator has caused tremendous suffering to not only cattle, but these families out there and these rural landscapes that are trying to earn their livelihood.”

Veril Nelson, western region chairman of the OCA wolf task force, told WLJ that wolves cause more than just deaths in livestock.

“Wolves also cause weight loss, reproductive failure, and tend to push cattle away from wolf-inhabited areas, so you can’t get uniform grazing,” Nelson said. “A lot of the rangelands and pasture lands are going to be unused because of the wolves.”

Plan revisions

The plan includes updates to base information such as status, population and distribution, new science related to the biology and management of wolves, and improved management based on information gained since the plan’s first implementation.

The most controversial revision to the plan was allowing a future hunting provision in order to help manage wildlife population and curb livestock attacks. Special permits would be issued by the ODFW, after approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS).

“That’s one of the reasons we wanted management zones,” Nelson said. “The wolves may go to some zones similar to the hunting zones we have.”

Environmental groups left the hearing disappointed. But ODFW Commissioner Holly Akenson said this was a time to celebrate.

Akenson, who was a wildlife biologist prior to becoming an ODFW Commissioner, said, “We have wolves in Oregon; they’re a viable population and they’re growing. Oregon has come a long way … and we need to be happy about that.”

She also added that she didn’t think the details of the plan are going to affect things extremely one way or another, and that the plan is a continuation of the state’s success in reviving the wolf population.

Gov. Kate Brown (D) had previously changed her stance to opposition regarding the gray wolf’s status, saying, “The success of wolf recovery in Oregon is unquestioned,” but “Our collaborative work and its success cannot protect imperiled wildlife beyond our borders in other states.”

To which Rosa said, “We don’t really see the relevance of that statement because she is the governor of Oregon and the species is recovered in Oregon.”

Gov. Brown additionally announced she was not in favor of the new plan after it had been approved, which Nelson says he calls a “political move.”

Although gray wolves are still federally protected, a hearing is set for June 25 for the USFWS to receive public comments over delisting the species. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor

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