Oregon’s latest wolf count is on the agenda March 6 when the state Fish & Wildlife Commission meets in Salem. The commission is due for a briefing on a report that may serve as the foundation for removing gray wolves from Oregon’s endangered species list later this year.
The 2014 report from department wildlife biologists says Oregon has a minimum of 77 wolves in nine packs. More importantly, eight of those packs contained breeding pairs, meaning they had at least two pups that survived to the end of the year.
Under the Oregon wolf plan, the hard-fought compromise that governs wolf conservation and management in the state, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife can propose delisting if the state has four or more breeding pairs for three consecutive years. Oregon counted six breeding pairs in 2012 and four in 2013.
State delisting would eliminate endangered species status for wolves in the eastern third of the state and give cattle ranchers more leeway to protect livestock. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already delisted wolves in Northeast Oregon, but they remain under state ESA protection. Wolves in the rest of Oregon — such as well-traveled OR-7 and his mate and pups in the Southwest Oregon Cascades — remain covered under the federal ESA.
Delisting would be a lengthy public process that would include time for comment, according to ODFW. The commission isn’t expected to take any action toward that on Friday, but may direct staff at its April meeting to begin the process.
Conservation groups have warned against delisting Oregon wolves too soon. Oregon Wild, a key player in formulating the wolf plan, said the wolf count represents “great progress” but does not represent biological recovery. Conservation director Doug Heiken has said the state needs to see better geographical distribution of wolves as well. He said that will happen over time if wolves are not prematurely delisted and “persecuted.”
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association holds the opposite view. Spokeswoman Kayli Hanley said Oregon has allowed the wolf population to grow unchecked. Ranchers expect more attacks on livestock this year if wolves continue to remain on the endangered species list, she said in an email.
The meeting is at 8 a.m. Friday in ODFW’s commission room, 4034 Fairview Industrial Drive S.E., Salem.