Coalition Critiques Wolf Management in Oregon, Seeks Immediate Changes
SALEM, Ore.— In light of the recent killing of two endangered gray wolves, a coalition of local, state and national conservation groups today called on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to make immediate and significant improvements in managing the state’s recovering wolf population. In a letter sent today to the agency’s director, Roy Elicker, eleven groups urged the agency to increase transparency, enhance outreach, prioritize nonlethal measures for reducing conflict, suspend 24 landowner kill permits and make lethal control a truly last-resort option. Oregon is currently home to 17 confirmed wolves and two breeding pairs. The state wildlife agency has killed four wolves in the past two years to assuage livestock-industry concerns. Another died shortly after being collared by the agency in February, and a sixth was killed by poachers last fall.
“Under state law, the gray wolf is rightfully an endangered species,” said Rob Klavins with Oregon Wild. “We are simply asking the state to right a historic wrong and manage wolves so they can recover. Killing wolves and dropping conservation efforts every time special interests raise a fuss is not what Oregonians expect from state wildlife managers.”
In the letter, the groups point to several inconsistencies between recent actions by the state agency and management guidelines set forth in the state endangered species laws and the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Some of the highlighted areas where Oregon Fish and Wildlife is falling short are:
- Violating the wolf plan by baiting members of the Imnaha Pack back to the site of reported depredations, leading to more losses that may in turn be used to justify lethal control.
- Failure to adequately document and publicly share information on claimed nonlethal preventative measures.
- Issuing 24 landowner kill permits without adequately documenting and publicly sharing information demonstrating those permits were issued in compliance with the wolf plan.
- Treating every conflict between wolves and the livestock industry as a crisis by devoting nearly all of the agency’s wolf-related time and resources on a small fraction of the duties prescribed by the plan at the expense of research, education and conservation.
“The state Endangered Species Act prohibits the killing of listed species with very limited exceptions,” said Jennifer Schwartz of Hells Canyon Preservation Council, a group involved with the creation of the Oregon Wolf Plan. “If ODFW is going to lawfully operate within that narrow window of exceptions, it must be able to show that lethally removing wolves in response to conflicts with livestock is somehow necessary to further their conservation in Oregon. With so few wolves in the state, we are very much unconvinced that we need to kill more wolves in order to promote their recovery.”
The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan does allow for killing wolves under certain circumstances; but the law requires the agency to prioritize conservation for one of Oregon’s most endangered, persecuted and misunderstood species.
“Oregonians want wolf recovery that is going to work for everyone,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity. “But if the state wildlife agency is going to treat every conflict between wolves and the livestock industry as a crisis and immediately turn to killing wolves, that’s not going to work for anyone.”
The wolf plan was created in 2005 and revised in 2010. Both process included exhaustive public comment that was overwhelmingly in favor of stronger protections for wolves. Even so, conservationists have generally supported the compromise embodied in the plan in the hopes it would lead to recovery of the species. Agribusiness interests have been less cooperative. At a recent legislative hearing aimed at further weakening the plan, a representative from the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association testified that their group was “never part of any compromise…we wrote the minority report.” Local news media quoted the same spokesman saying “it’s about damn time” when the announcement was made to kill the two wolves. Others lamented that “the whole pack should be taken out.”
The kill orders were issued just hours after wolf-management authority was handed back to the state. Oregon Fish and Wildlife has confirmed fewer than a dozen cows lost to wolves since they began returning over a decade ago. Wolves have been killed in response to all confirmed livestock losses, and the affected ranchers have been fully reimbursed. By comparison, in 2010 alone, 55,000 head were lost to other causes like weather, disease and human thieves.
The kill orders were followed by the issuance of 24 landowner kill permits — a number that exceeds the confirmed population of wolves in the state. Though two wolves were killed, the permits remain outstanding and extend to public land. Conservationists have expressed concerns that these permits, coupled with daily information being texted to landowners on wolf locations and an ongoing campaign of misinformation and fear, may provide a roadmap for potential poachers.
“Killing wolves to assuage interests of those who have never shown any interest in allowing wolf recovery isn’t what we had in mind when we agreed to support the plan,” said Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands. “If ODFW continues to bend to political pressure from special interests, they’re violating the trust we and other Oregonians have put in them.”
The letter concludes on a similar note: “Should ODFW continue to veer away from wolf conservation efforts, public support for the plan and your agency could be seriously undermined.”
The signing groups are: Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Northeast Oregon Ecosystems, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Sierra Club, Oregon Wild, Predator Defense, Western Watersheds Project and the Wolf Education & Research Center.