SALEM — A packed meeting room is expected today as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission decides whether to remove gray wolves from the state’s endangered species law.
Livestock producers strongly favor the idea and conservation groups are just as deeply opposed, and a full day of emotional, conflicting testimony is likely. The wolf delisting is the only item on the commission’s agenda.
State wildlife biologists recommend delisting wolves. Under the state’s wolf recovery plan, the commission can take wolves off the endangered list if they determine:
Wolves aren’t in danger of extinction in any portion of their range; their natural reproductive potential is not in danger of failing; there’s no imminent or active deterioration of their range or primary habitat; the species or its habitat won’t be “over-utilized” for scientific, recreational, commercial or educational reasons; and existing state or federal regulations are adequate to protect them.
Conservation groups aligned as the Pacific Wolf Coalition have described the staff recommendation as flawed. They believe state law requires that the study be peer reviewed by other scientists. The coalition includes Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity.
If the ODFW commission agrees with the staff recommendation, it would mean wolves in the eastern third of the state are not protected under either state or federal endangered species laws. Federal ESA protection would still be in force in Oregon west of Highways 395, 78 and 95.
Delisting wouldn’t mean open season on wolves in Eastern Oregon, however. The state wolf plan would remain in force, and it allows ODFW-approved “controlled take,” or killing, of wolves in cases of chronic livestock attacks or if wolves cause a decline in prey populations, chiefly elk and deer. Ranchers, as they can now, would be able to shoot wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock or herd dogs. None have been killed in that manner.
Oregon’s wolf plan does not allow sport hunting of wolves in any phase of the recovery timeline, department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.
Oregon has 82 confirmed wolves. The number stood at 85 in July, but the Sled Springs pair was found dead of unknown cause in Wallowa County, and a man hunting coyotes shot a lone wolf, OR-22, in Grant County. ODFW’s wolf program coordinator, Russ Morgan, estimates Oregon has 90 to 100 wolves and said the population might reach 150 within three years.