By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission ordered state wildlife managers Friday to analyze the possibilities of removing the gray wolf from Oregon’s protected species list for all or the eastern half of the state.

The commission, which oversees the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, will not make a decision on whether to take the wolf off the state endangered species list until the analysis of the two options is complete.

“What we want is the best information for you and for us,” Chairman Michael Finley told the audience at a commission meeting Friday in Bend.

Along with an hourlong presentation by the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s top wolf expert about the status of the animal in Oregon, the commission heard public comments from 38 people. The speakers included an environmental educator, conservationists and ranchers. The bulk of the commenters opposed delisting the wolf.

If wolves are delisted in half the state, the dividing line would run right through Central Oregon. The line would follow U.S. Highway 97 between Biggs Junction to Bend, then U.S. Highway 20 toward Burns, and then U.S. Highway 395 from Riley to the Oregon-California border. Wolves would remain listed by the state west of the line and come off the list east of the line.

The state’s analysis of the two options could take several months, Finley said, meaning the commission might not make a decision on the topic until fall. The commission could also decide to keep the wolf listed statewide , he added.

Even if the state delists the gray wolf, the animal would still be a federally protected species in Central Oregon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the wolf as an endangered species in the western two-thirds of the state.

Once eliminated from Oregon by state-sponsored bounty hunts — the last bounty was paid in 1946 — wolves have been making a comeback. They have been on the state protected species list since its creation in 1987. While not reintroduced into Oregon, wolves have moved into the state from packs reintroduced in the 1990s in Idaho.

Oregon adopted a wolf plan, guiding the management of wolves in the state, in 2005, and state scientists reported the first new breeding pairs of wolves in 2008. By the latest count, completed last year, there are at least 77 individual wolves in the state and 15 known packs or groups.

The wolf plan calls for the state to start the process to delist wolves if there are four breeding pairs for three consecutive years in Eastern Oregon, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The goal was hit early this year.

At Friday’s meeting, Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the gray wolf should no longer be listed by the state. In reviewing the wolf, state scientists looked at factors such as geographic range, population and habitat.

“This is a success story,” Morgan said. “Not very many years ago, we had no known wolves in Oregon. Now we not only have wolves, but the population is healthy and growing.”

Critics of the state’s assessment of wolves said the population is not large enough for delisting.

“I urge the commission to maintain endangered species status for wolves,” said Wally Sykes, of Joseph, a longtime opponent of animal trapping and a member of the Pacific Wolf Coalition.

Ranchers argued that delisting the wolf would allow them to do more to protect their cattle from the carnivores, such as shoot wolves seen chasing livestock.

“We are tired and we are worn out and there are times when we need lethal action on wolves,” said Todd Nash, an Enterprise rancher and chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association Wolf Task Force.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

ddarling@bendbulletin.com

9757081