Oregon’s work of managing wolves in balance with the varied interests of people takes another turn this month when the state wildlife commission meets Dec. 8 to review draft management plan.
Representatives of livestock, hunting and conservation groups get the first word when the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission meets in Salem. The public can attend, but testimony won’t be taken until the commission meets again Jan. 19. Comments also may be made by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A “working copy” of the revised Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, which includes edits made by ODFW staff, is available at http://bit.ly/1OPoneb.
Wildlife issues in the West, especially those hinged to endangered species concerns, are a thicket of often-opposing points of view. In the case of Oregon’s wolves, the ODFW Commission’s complicated task is laid out in the plan’s straightforward language: “To ensure the conservation of gray wolves as required by Oregon law while protecting the social and economic interests of all Oregonians.”
Oregon adopted a wolf plan in 2005, updated it in 2010 and began the current revision in 2016 after taking wolves in Eastern Oregon off the endangered species list.
A few highlights from the current revision:
• The plan suggests 300 wolves as the “minimum population management threshold” through 2022. The figure is based on current data and computer modeling. Oregon had 112 documented wolves at the end of 2016, but wildlife officials believe Eastern Oregon could have 300 wolves as early as 2018, based on current population growth rates.
• Since being documented in Oregon in 2008, wolves have expanded in population and territory and now can be found within 10,741 square miles of the state.
• They primarily use forested habitat but follow prey to more open habitat in season, such as when elk move to lower elevation areas in winter. Tracking data from collared wolves showed they are on public land — primarily Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land — 60 percent of the time, on private land 38 percent of the time, and on tribal land 2 percent of the time.
• Much of the state’s potential wolf habitat is used seasonally to graze cattle and sheep. “...(I)t is expected that depredation on livestock will continue to occur in places where wolves and livestock are closely associated.”
• The plan recognizes ranching and farming as “important components of the Oregon economy” and says addressing conflict between wolves and livestock is an essential element of the management plan.
• Oregon has approximately 1.3 million cattle and 215,000 sheep. From 2009 through 2016, ODFW confirmed 89 depredation incidents and the loss of 45 cattle, 89 sheep, three goats, one llama and one herd protection dog.
• “Natural dispersal,” in which young adult wolves leave their birth packs to find new territory and mates of their own, is providing “continued expansion and ongoing genetic connectivity” to wolves in other states. Continued dispersal from Idaho into Oregon is likely; Idaho had 786 wolves in 108 packs at the end of 2015.
• Oregon’s two-zone management protects wolves in Western Oregon, where packs are just getting started, while allowing the flexibility of “lethal control” of wolves in Eastern Oregon, where most of them live and livestock attacks are a major concern.
• “Variation in local conditions will likely cause some areas to be more prone to livestock depredations than others, and chronic conflict may preclude survival of some wolf packs in certain circumstances.” This past August, ODFW killed four wolves from the Harl Butte pack for repeated attacks on calves, and authorized a rancher to shoot a Meacham Pack wolf for the same reason.
• The draft document said classifying wolves as “special status game mammals” provides the most options for long-term management. Among other things, the status allows “responsive” hunting and trapping when required. Such action would require a permit, and hunters and trappers would have to be pre-certified by ODFW.