WELCHES, Ore. — State wildlife officials made more than 50 changes so far to a draft wolf management plan and hope to have it ready for public and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission review by the end of the year.
Conservation groups have criticized what they consider a delay in updating the plan, especially as five wolves have been legally shot since August due to repeated attacks on livestock. Groups such as Oregon Wild argue that ODFW should not authorize lethal action on wolves while a management plan review is pending.
Commission Chairman Michael Finley defended the process.
“I will say there is no intention to delay or pause for the sake of delay,” he said by email. “We have a responsible wolf plan in place and are working to replace it with an updated plan that reflects lessons learned and works to recover the wolf.”
At a Sept. 15 commission meeting at Resort at the Mountain, on the flanks of Mount Hood, ODFW wolf program coordinator Russ Morgan said most of the changes are based on input from the public and from commission members.
“To me that strengthens this document,” said Morgan, who is retiring effective Oct. 1 and was making his last report to the commission.
Commission members thanked Morgan for his work in managing a controversial species, a process in which conservation groups and livestock producers hold opposing and hotly debated points of view.
Commissioner Greg Wolley said people recognize “what a tough spot” Morgan has been in.
“What I’ve found is respect for your professionalism and objectivity,” Wolley said. “It reflects on the whole department and on all of us.”
Morgan was questioned about Oregon’s wolf population. The state confirmed a minimum of 112 wolves at the end of 2016, only one more than the previous year after many consecutive years of rapid population increases. ODFW officials maintain the population survey late last year was hampered by extreme weather and that Oregon has more wolves than were counted.
Morgan said new wolves have shown up this year, ODFW placed more tracking collars on wolves than ever before, and he is encouraged by the numbers.
“There was talk of a stalled population, but one data point doesn’t make a trend,” he said. “I think we will see a promising increase in wolves. Oregon wolves, I’m confident, are doing well and will continue to do well.”
The majority of Oregon wolves remain in the northeast corner of the state, but Morgan said they will continue to disperse into the Cascade Mountains and elsewhere.