Ranchers and conservationists alike expressed frustration and bemusement after the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife introduced its first update to its gray wolf management plan in six years.
“It’s pretty disappointing, all in all,” said Todd Nash, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. The group represents ranchers in Eastern Oregon who have sometimes found themselves at odds with gray wolves because they have preyed on livestock.
This week, the agency released a draft of its revised wolf management plan, which provides guidelines for how the state manages its small but growing population of gray wolves. Among other changes, the agency added more specific restrictions for when and how wolves can be trapped and killed in the eastern half of the state.
Still, Rob Klavins, a field representative for the Portland-based conservation group Oregon Wild, said the changes don’t go far enough to protect Oregon’s still-vulnerable wolf populations, and represent a step backward on certain issues.
“A lot of the stuff in there is really a mixed bag,” Klavins said.
On the other side, Nash expressed frustration that the document didn’t reflect any of the association’s requests to give local ranchers and ODFW agents more autonomy when it came to controlling their wolf populations.
Because wild gray wolves had been practically eliminated in Oregon, the original wolf management plan was created in 2005 as a way to thoughtfully reintroduce them.
The plan was updated in 2010, with another update slated to come five years later. Michelle Dennehy, wildlife communications coordinator for ODFW, said the agency wanted to wait until after gray wolves were removed from the list of endangered species in Oregon.
As of 2016, however, Oregon had a population of at least 112 wolves, based on an annual report from ODFW. In Eastern Oregon, there were enough breeding pairs to trigger a classification change from the agency in March, changing regulations on how wolves can be trapped and hunted.
While the goals of the updated management plan will remain the same, the agency wanted to include additional rules about the circumstances when ranchers may kill wolves in areas where their population isn’t immediately threatened.
Ranchers are allowed to seek permits to hunt wolves in two circumstances, including “chronic depredation” — cases in which a wolf is found to be routinely killing livestock. Under the new proposed draft, the threshold would be changed to require an ODFW agent to confirm three livestock depredations, or to confirm one kill, and declare at least four “probable” wolf attacks based on circumstantial evidence.
While these requirements are more stringent than those in the prior management plan, Klavins said they still left the door open for wolves to be killed without cause. In 2016, seven wolves were killed, including two that were still being investigated at the end of the year, according to ODFW’s annual report.
In all, Klavins said some of the agency’s changes were well-intentioned, but weren’t specific enough to be implemented effectively.
“I think we need these defensible … enforcible standards, and that’s what’s really missing here,” he said.
On the other hand, Nash said the cattlemen’s association had pushed for additional coordination between the Salem-based agency and ranchers in Eastern Oregon. By and large, he said that language was largely left out of the 146-page document.
“People don’t have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the livestock community in northeast Oregon,” Nash said.
He added that he’d like to see language introduced regarding a hypothetical cap on Oregon’s wolf populations, now that the population has begun to recover.
Going forward, the agency will hold two public informational meetings: in Klamath Falls on April 21 and in Portland on May 19. Dennehy said ODFW has not settled on a date to release the final draft of the management plan.
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