The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has scheduled two public hearings on an updated wolf management plan.
Many ranchers in wolf country would counter that state wildlife officials have in reality updated their plan to manage cattle producers. And it seems they’re doing it a bit far from where wolves and people most often interact.
Oregon’s wolf population has grown steadily in the decade since the first wolves migrated from Idaho into Northeast Oregon. In 2011 there were only 23. The state visually documented 112 wolves at the end of 2016, according to ODFW’s annual report. At the end of 2015, Oregon had 110 confirmed wolves.
ODFW officials have described Oregon’s wolf population growth as a biological success story, and the state commission took wolves off the state endangered species list in 2015.
They remain protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in areas west of U.S. highways 395, 78 and 95. That’s most of the state.
We have generally agreed that wolves have a place in Oregon’s wild country. Oregon is a big place, with room for native wildlife and domestic livestock.
But we’ve been equally adamant that ranchers should have reasonable leeway to take action against wolves when non-lethal actions aimed at keeping them away from livestock don’t work. That’s not the case in the current plan, and less so in the proposed update.
Instead, ODFW has proposed raising the bar.
The commission plans hearings on the updated plan at its next two regularly scheduled meetings. The first is April 21 in Klamath Falls, an area of the state that only recently started to report some wolf activity. The second will be May 19 in Portland, where there have been no wolves for decades.
The commission has received quite a few letters from Portlanders who write passionately about their desire that wolves go completely unmolested in the state. They argue that the wolves, as property of the state, belong just as much to them as Eastern Oregon ranchers.
That’s true. But while the Willamette River belongs to all Oregonians, discussions on its restoration are never held in Enterprise.
It seems to us that commissioners would want to make it easier to hear from people for whom wolves are not an abstract attraction. We can assure them that there is no lack of diversity of opinion on wolves, even in the far reaches of Wallowa County, where livestock depredation is common.
Paraphrasing a member of Oregon’s wolf management team, the ultimate success of wolves in Oregon requires their widespread acceptance in those areas where they most come in contact with human activity. For now, that’s ranching country.
That’s where the wolves will be managed. Perhaps that’s where the plan should get a hearing.