18 june 2011. BlueOregon
By Robert Klavins. Robert is a Roadless Wildlands Advocate for Oregon Wild.
From the bottle bill to beach access, Oregonians pride ourselves on our green reputation. But when it comes to wildlife, Oregon is starting to look more like Idaho or Wyoming than the green hearted bumper sticker gracing our cars and laptops. That’s particularly true when it comes to gray wolves, the icon of American wilderness.
50 years ago, wolves were hunted into extinction in Oregon. Now, these native animals are beginning to take their first tentative steps back into our forests, grasslands, and canyons—a fact celebrated by most Oregonians. But for some, hatred and fear of wolves runs deep. Though Oregon is home to just 17 wild wolves today, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and other agribusiness interests seem to believe that is 17 too many.
A few numbers to keep in mind:
- 1.3 million: Cows in Oregon.
- 17: Confirmed wolf population in Oregon
- 55,000: Cows lost in Oregon in 2010 to things like weather, disease, and thieves
- <25: Cows lost to wolves since they began returning over a decade ago
- $1.65: cost to a livestock operation to run a cow/calf pair on Oregon public lands
- $30,368: federal subsidies received by the Wolf committee Chair of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) from 2001 – 2009
Oregonians treasure our wildlands and wildlife, and time and again we have weighed-in in support of wolves. In 2005 we came together to create what was – at the time – the most progressive state management plan for wolves in the West (the bar was pretty low). Conservationists, wanting wolf recovery that worked for everyone, reluctantly agreed to support a compromise plan that set laughably low recovery numbers. We never expected a time when the state would kill off nearly a fifth of its wolf population to appease special interests who never supported the plan in the first place.
Sadly, that is exactly what is happening. In the last two years, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has killed 5 wolves (4 on purpose), issued 24 wolf-kill permits to landowners, and is actively hunting down more. Northeast Oregon agribusiness interests and their political allies in Salem seem to have the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) leadership in a headlock. Every time a crisis is manufactured by anti-wolf interests, the agency seems to curtail education and conservation efforts and rush to issue additional kill permits.
The justifications for killing Oregon wolves ranges from “increasing social tolerance” to “teaching the pack a lesson” and “reducing the pack’s food requirements”.
Though we have killed more than 20% of Oregon’s fragile wolf population in the last year, that still has not satisfied anti-wildlife interests. This year the Oregon legislature considered over a half dozen bills aimed at undermining our state’s already weak wolf management plan and make poaching laws unenforceable. Thankfully, most of these proposals died, but lobbyists for the Cattlemen and Farm Bureau have promised to try again.
Most Oregonians believe that coexisting with native wildlife on public lands is a basic moral responsibility,not a burdensome requirement. But as the legislature winds down, one final wolf related-bill is working its way through the Salem legislative sausage machine. If approved with expected amendments, HB3560, would create a new subsidy for livestock interests by requiring Oregon taxpayers to set aside $100,000 or more to compensate them for missing livestock (some of which may not have even been killed by wolves) even as taxpayers are already paying ODFW salaries to kill wolves at their request.
At a time when Oregon can’t afford to keep its schools open, does it really make sense to create a new entitlement program for livestock interests in return for which we get a begrudging commitment to maybe allow some endangered wolves to survive?
When conservation-minded Oregonians reluctantly supported our state’s modest wolf plan, we neverenvisioned a day when a missing cow simply meant another dead wolf, and taxpayers writing a large check to a livestock operation. If ODFW continues to respond to the political demands of anti-wildlife interests by killing more wolves, and opening the public coffers, both their credibility as a wildlife agency and public support for the wolf plan will evaporate. That may make the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and other anti-wildlife interests happy, but it is not how most Oregonians expect our state government to behave.