This is the first in a continuing series about the return of wolves to Oregon.
CANYON CITY - The only good wolf is a dead wolf, or at least one that isn't in Oregon, was the general consensus of a group of people at the Nov. 24 meeting of the Grant County Court during a discussion of the state's plan to manage the coming wolf population.
"We should have zero tolerance for this animal," said Dean Elliott of Canyon City, a hunter who was concerned about the affect wolves will have not only on the safety of people, but on the area's game animals.
The Court asked for public input for its response to the wolf plan being drafted by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.
In March of last year, the Court went to Lincoln to provide testimony to the commission, which at that time appointed an advisory committee of 14 people, representing a variety of interests throughout the state, including police, education, economics, livestock, trappers and Native Americans. Twelve members of the advisory committee agreed to the plan that came out of the committee's 10 meetings.
Ben Boswell, a commissioner out of Wallowa County, and Sharon Beck, representing the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, took a minority position.
"Ms. Beck and Mr. Boswell represent the minority from the committee's standpoint, but I'm totally convinced that (for) the citizens of Eastern Oregon, they represent the majority opinion," said Grant County Court Judge Dennis Reynolds.
Beck was at the Court meeting. Boswell wasn't there, but in his minority report, he wrote, in part: "As I consider whether to support the draft plan, I remain convinced that an effort to establish wolves in Oregon is a fool's errand. Having received a crash course in wolf ecology over the past year, I have concluded that lots of wildlife will die, some livestock will die and many wolves will die. Why do we want to embark on a plan to permit this agent of death to populate our state? I believe we do not. I propose that wolves be kept from Oregon by whatever means are necessary."
Beck said that at the very least the proposed 183-page wolf plan is confusing. More important to her was what she saw as the plan's lack of protection of people and livestock from wolf attacks.
It's a complex issue that began in the mid-1990s, when the federal government decided to re-establish wolf packs in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Naturally, wolves from Idaho started roaming, and in 1999, a wolf wandered into Oregon and the state's wildlife leaders decided the state needed a plan to manage the coming wolf packs.
When the plan was started, biologists could not confirm the presence of wolves in Oregon, but perhaps they didn't come to Eastern Oregon.
"I know that several people (here), who will remain anonymous, had an educational experience with wolves and the wolves graduated," David Snider told the Court. "I saw three of them on my property in about 1997.
That was two years before wolf B-45 came into Eastern Oregon from Idaho and caused such a stir that a statewide "name that wolf" contest was held in schools. The wolf was named "Freedom," but it didn't last long in Oregon. After about six weeks, it was captured by the ODFW near the Middle Fork of the John Day River and returned to an area near McCall, Idaho.
At the time, B-45 was teenager - a "sub adult," in wildlife lingo - and wore a ODFW radio collar.
"It was one of the original pups from the first transplant in Idaho," said Craig Ely, who works at the ODFW's northeast region office in La Grande.
Ely wasn't at the courthouse, but the night before, he led a local meeting of about 30 people concerned about wolves in Eastern Oregon, either to protect them or get rid of them.
It was a chance for local people to air their concerns about the wolf. Public comment will continue until Feb. 10, 2005, the day before the plan is to be presented by the commission to the ODFW.
There are public hearings scheduled for Dec. 10 and jan. 6 in Salem, and Feb. 10 in Troutdale.
"I keep repeating this, we must send in our comments, they must be specific, not just venting, but specific to the administrative rules, I believe, because in my experiences with these thick plans, what really governs us are the administrative rules," Sharon Livingston said at the courthouse. "And when it comes time for that hearing in February, we need busloads of people in the building, in that hearing, making comments, and we need to be organized before."
Livingston, president-elect of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, attended the meeting the night before, but wasn't satisfied that her concerns about the plan were taken seriously.
"I find no tools in here that are available to us (cattle ranchers)," Livingston said. "We're better off operating under the federal rules than we will under the the state's management plan. They've spent 10 months and thousands of dollars putting together this plan, and it does not give us tools to protect ourselves. The Constitution gives us better tools."
Judge Reynolds doubted that any comments received on Feb. 10 would have much affect on the commission's decision.
"It's pompous to believe that it's appropriate to have a decision made on the heels of submitting data as late as five o'clock on the tenth and to have it duly considered by ten o'clock on the eleventh," he said.
Reynolds voiced concerns about what happened to B-45, and said he heard that its collar had been taken off and wondered why.
"What are they trying to do, lose the pack?" Reynolds said.
A call to John Stephenson, who works for the federal department of fish and wildlife in Bend, led to a visit to a Web site that posts weekly reports on wolf the federal wolf plan.
The site's report for the middle of August contained this item: "During recent wolf control actions near McCall, Idaho, an old, gray faced adult female (showing signs of past lactation) wolf was captured by Wildlife Services personnel and unfortunately released without its nonfunctioning radio collar being replaced. We are certain that the wolf was B-45, the controversial wolf that dispersed into Oregon from Idaho, and was subsequently helicopter captured and returned to Idaho in March 1999. B-45's radio collar ceased functioning nearly two years ago. It was unknown whether she and her radio-collared mate (his collar is nonfunctioning) were alive or dead until this recent capture. Efforts have been ongoing in recent years to capture and recollar both wolves. She may represent another unidentified wolf pack in the immediate vicinity of recent sheep depredations near McCall."
Stephenson is behind the plan.
"The commission did a good job in a tough task," Stephenson said. "We support what they're trying to do."
The goal of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is to: "ensure the conservation of gray wolves as required by Oregon law while protecting the social and economic interests of all Oregonians."
Three key legislative changes are necessary to fully implement the plan: change in the wolf's legal status; development of a livestock compensation program; and "take" of an endangered species without a permit.
The ODFW staff will work through the Governor's Natural Resources Office to develop the three legal concepts into legislative bills.
"What we want to do with the plan is bring the rules in line with the federal Endangered Species Act," Ely said.
A Grant County ordinance prevents the keeping of full-blooded wolves in the county.
"There are no wolves allowed in Grant County, no full-blood wolves," Reynolds said.
The ODFW wants to argue that the ordinance implies that someone has a wolf in their back yard, or otherwise fenced in, Reynolds said.
At the meeting in Lincoln, Reynolds was asked how he defined "keep."
"I define keep by having a wolf in the cross-hairs and somebody tapping me on the shoulder and saying you can't do that, you are the keeper of the wolf," he said he told the commission.
The county ordinance means if wolves come into the county, then the first thing to do is to notify the keeper - ODFW - give the department a certain prescribed time in order to remove it. If it isn't removed, the county will cause it to be removed and the state will pay the bill. The wolf isn't killed, but captured and delivered to the ODFW.
"I'm still looking forward to catching that wolf and taking it to Salem and turning it loose in the front office," County Commissioner Boyd Britton said.
Under state law, it is illegal for private individuals to use lethal force on a wolf in Oregon; the commission is trying to change that through the legislative process, Ely said.
"The wildlife law says that we have a right to protect ourselves against any wildlife species that does harm to our land, our livestock or ourselves," Beck said. "They totally disregard that law, and say it's superceded by the Oregon Endangered Species Act. We have that right, under federal law, to protect ourselves and our livestock against attacking wolves.
"Oregon's law doesn't give us that right. Oregon's law does not even say, if you'll notice in the plan, it doesn't say that you can protect yourself from a wolf, kill a wolf that's attacking you."
What the plan does say is that a person may use a criminal statute for protection against a wolf attack, the same law that gives a person the right to defend his home if someone breaks in.
"We are being asked to put ourselves in danger, our livestock, our children," Snider said. "We need some help here to keep these people from taking away our constitutional rights. This is my property. I worked hard for it. I bought it. I paid for it, and now they're telling me I gotta raise wolves on my property."