The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has moved a step closer to finalizing the first new management plan for gray wolves in Oregon in seven years.
On Thursday, the seven ODFW commissioners met in Salem to discuss details of a draft of the department’s gray wolf management plan. The four-hour meeting focused on developing a plan that strikes a balance between allowing the state’s still-vulnerable population of gray wolves to continue to grow and providing a way for Eastern Oregon’s ranchers to protect their cattle.
“We’re in a monitoring and learning stage here in many ways,” said Commissioner Laura Anderson during the meeting.
A key issue discussed was providing a distinction between wolf attacks on livestock on private land, versus attacks on public land.
Russ Morgan, wolf biologist for ODFW, said during the meeting that 26 percent of wolf attacks on livestock occur on public land.
In theory, the plan could allow for different thresholds for hunting wolves that attack livestock, depending on whether those attacks occurred on public or private land. However, several speakers pointed out that, because private ranchers can graze their cattle on public land for a set fee, those distinctions can get blurry.
“In the end, our livestock are still our private property,” said Todd Nash, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.
The commission decided to ask staff to determine what different standards on different types of land might look like. Neither the current wolf management plan nor the proposed draft differentiate between attacks on public or private land.
Other topics discussed during the meeting included the value of using radio collars to track wolves, and how a growing population of canines might impact large mammals like moose and elk.
In 2005, ODFW developed a plan to manage populations of gray wolves as they return to the state. The wolves are native to Oregon, but their numbers dwindled as more people moved to the Western United States, according to the draft plan. By the latter half of the 20th century, there were no confirmed packs living in the state.
The initial management plan, which was updated in 2010, was designed to provide a road map to a sustainable population of wolves, with different levels of protection in different parts of the state as populations increased. In March, much of Eastern Oregon was placed in the most lenient phase of wolf management, which allows residents to kill wolves under certain circumstances.
According to ODFW’s 2016 annual report, Oregon had a population of at least 112 wolves, concentrated heavily in the southern and northeastern portions of the state. Because of that, much of the discussion centered on treating wolves like any other predator within an ecosystem.
“We’re beyond ‘protect every wolf because we don’t know what’s going to happen,’” said Commissioner Holly Akenson.
The commission has held a series of public meetings, most recently in Portland in May. Commissioners have not yet set a date for final adoption of the wolf management plan.
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