SALEM — Opposing sides in Oregon’s continuing wolf argument both believe some aspects of the state’s management plan should be reviewed by independent parties.
Speaking March 18 to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife Commission, conservationists repeated their view that an external scientific review should have been done before the commission took wolves off the state endangered species list last November.
Livestock, hunting and farming interests, meanwhile, suggested a third-party should make the call on whether livestock attacks are listed as confirmed wolf depredation or only “probable,” which don’t count toward lethal control decisions.
On just about every other aspect of wolves in Oregon, however, the two sides disagree. Panelists representing both sides were invited to meet with the ODFW Commission and stake out their positions as the state begins what is expected to be a nine-month review of the wolf management plan.
The review begins as cattle and sheep producers, hunters and the Oregon Farm Bureau have scored a couple of key victories. First was the commission’s delisting decision in November, and the Oregon Legislature followed that up by passing a bill that protects the decision from legal challenge. Since then, the state’s annual wolf survey showed the state population grew 36 percent in 2015. Wildlife biologist Russ Morgan, ODFW’s wolf recovery manager, said the numbers represent a continuing success story as wolves expand in number and range.
Panelists from Oregon Wild, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Cascadia Wildlands repeated their view that delisting was premature and not supported by independent scientific review. Representatives said they oppose a state population cap or range limits on wolves. They also oppose sport hunting of wolves, which some think could be an eventual result of delisting and plan revision.
Amaroq Weiss, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said some Oregon actions undermine wolf protection. The Legislature passed a bill increasing the fines for poaching, she said, but excused “unintentional take.”
“The law provides an absolute defense for someone who shoots a wolf and claims he thought it was a coyote,” she said, noting the case of an Oregon hunter who was prosecuted for a 2015 incident. “The state is saying, claim it was an accident and we’ll turn our back.”
Rob Klavins, Northeast Oregon field coordinator for Oregon Wild, said wolf poaching has increased, the delisting and legislative action was “unfair and unethical” and discussions are marked by “renewed conflict and controversy” even as a majority of Oregonians favor wolf protections.
“We’re skeptical, but we are here again,” he told the commission.
The other side had points to make as well.
Mary Anne Nash, an attorney with the Oregon Farm Bureau, said conservationists’ complaints about transparency and scientific review are “in the eye of the beholder.”
“They mean their preferred outcomes, and their science,” she said.
Dave Wiley, with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said ODFW must protect Oregon’s deer and elk herds as wolf packs expand.
Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, said it’s “wonderful” to restore wolves to the ecosystem, “But at some point there needs to be management. We’ve reached that point,” he said.
Wallowa County rancher Todd Nash, head of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association wolf task force, said ODFW has too high a bar for confirming wolf attacks and an outside party ought to do it instead. He and others also favor establishing geographic management zones in which wolves could be controlled on a more local basis.
Morgan, the ODFW biologist, said Oregon’s minimum wolf population at the close of 2015 was 110, with 12 packs and 11 breeding pairs. A recently updated count showed 35 pups survived through the year.
Seven wolves are known to have died during 2015: A pup died of natural causes, the Sled Springs male and female pair were found dead of an unknown cause, one wolf ingested poison in some fashion, and three were illegally shot. Two of the shooting deaths remain under investigation.
Oregon State University is studying the interaction of wolves and cougars, Morgan said, and biologists have seen some cases where wolves attack coyotes.
In one case, biologists noted that tracking collars showed wolves at one spot for several days. When they investigated, biologists discovered wolves had dug out a coyote den to get at pups.
Morgan said the state spent $318,322 on wolf management in 2015, a figure that doesn’t include reimbursements to livestock owners for damage or defensive measures.
Of the expenditure, about $225,000 came from the federal government and the state provided about $92,000. The state’s share came from hunting license sales and Oregon Lottery funds.
Expenses include helicopter flights, drugs to knock out wolves and the tracking collars placed on them, Morgan said. “Wolf management is expensive,” he told the commission.