Editorial: Wolf bill represents compromise

After 18 months of talking, Oregon ranchers, conservationists and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife can agree on a plan to manage predatory wolves in this state. Key elements of that agreement are written into House Bill 3452, which cleared the House Thursday.

Wolves’ history in Oregon isn’t a pretty one, at least since white settlers arrived here. The first bounty on them was established in 1843, some 16 years before Oregon became a state. The last wolf was killed near Crater Lake in 1947, and the hunter responsible collected $5 for his effort.

From ’47 until 1999, Oregon was wolf free. That year an animal crossed into the state from Idaho; it was rounded up and sent back. It wasn’t until 2007, some 60 years after the state’s last wolf died, that the largest member of the dog family came home to stay.

Wolves can cause problems for ranchers. They are carnivores that hunt deer, elk and, unfortunately, sheep and cattle. Scientists say they tend to prey on the old, the ill and the very young, though that’s small consolation to a rancher with newborn lambs. In May, wolves killed four sheep and one young cow in northeastern Oregon.

Until the state Court of Appeals put a halt to the practice in late 2011, Oregon ranchers could kill marauding wolves. HB 3452 reflects the settlement of the lawsuit that prompted the appellate court’s ruling. As is typical of compromises, no one got all he wanted out of it.

Ranchers did get the right to kill wolves, but only as a last resort. Wolves have to be caught in the act of biting, wounding, killing or chasing livestock or working dogs, for one thing. Too, a rancher must have tried to correct the problem by nonlethal means. He must receive permission from ODFW to proceed, and he must preserve the scene of a wolf killing for state police investigators.

The compromise and the restrictions on wolf killing set out in HB 3452 are good ones. The measure passed the House overwhelmingly. It should get similar treatment in the Senate.