Gray wolves, once forgotten in Oregon, have seen their population grow steadily in the state over the last decade. Twelve years after the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released the first version of its wolf management plan, the state agency is closing in on a third edition, after releasing an updated draft on Thursday.

Michelle Dennehy, wildlife communications coordinator for ODFW, said the growth of the state’s wolf population allows the agency to incorporate real, rather than hypothetical, information on how Oregon wolves interact with residents and other wildlife.

However, a conservation organization is concerned that the changes to the plan, including rules around when and how residents can kill wolves, open a path for Oregon’s gray wolves to be treated like any other carnivore in the state, to the detriment of the still-vulnerable population.

Danielle Moser, wildlife coordinator for Oregon Wild, said the draft could put a “foot in the door” for regulated wolf hunts down the line.

“This is how the groundwork was laid in Idaho, in Wyoming, in Montana,” Moser said of three states that allow residents more latitude to kill wolves. “We’re trying to stop that before it happens here.”

Gray wolves are native to Oregon, but as more European-Americans moved to the state in the 20th century, wolf populations decreased. ODFW’s draft plan notes that there was no incontrovertible evidence of wolves in the state between 1946 and 1974. A lone wolf traveled to Oregon from the east in 1999, but there were no known wolves when the first draft of the wolf management plan was released in 2005. The plan was updated in 2010.

As of 2016, there are at least 112 wolves living in the state, and packs are becoming more established in northeastern and southern Oregon.

ODFW intended the plan to be updated every five years, but after the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission removed the gray wolf from the state’s list of protected species in 2015, the agency decided to delay the most recent update.

Dennehy said ODFW began reaching out to members of the public about the updated plan around a year ago, and has held public meetings in Baker City, Portland and Klamath Falls since. During a public meeting in May, Todd Nash, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, pushed for local communities to have greater control over wolves in their region, which he said would allow investigations of livestock killers to move faster and more efficiently.

“Wherever they’re at, we wouldn’t allow someone to rustle our cattle,” Nash said during the meeting.

Nash could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The agency put out an initial draft in April, and left comments and changes from the draft in the newer version, so readers could track the plan’s evolution, Dennehy said.

Moser said the plan had changed significantly since the April draft, primarily for the worse. In particular, Moser was critical of provisions that allow the agency to authorize residents to hunt and trap wolves by permit in areas where the agency has determined that deer and elk are falling short of population targets because of wolves.

Overall, Moser was concerned that the tone of the plan would pave the way for wolves to be treated like other carnivores, including cougars, that have larger, more stable populations in Oregon.

“I’d imagine there’s going to be quite an outcry when people see this plan,” Moser said.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will discuss the plan at a meeting in Salem on Dec. 8, where hunting, ranching and conservation organizations will testify on the draft.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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