Wolf agreement offers victory for all
It can be done. Representatives of deeply held opposing viewpoints can sit down and, with time, tact and patience, develop a solution for even the most difficult problems.
Are we talking about Middle East peace or a solution to the political deadlock gripping Washington, D.C.?
Not quite, but anyone who has been following the reintroduction of wolves into the Northwest would agree that managing and protecting a predator and weighing its welfare against the welfare of livestock owners is difficult at best.
At worst, it's a disaster.
In Oregon, the wolf issue has wavered somewhere between those extremes, as a single pack has caused most of the problems for ranchers. In the extreme northeastern corner of the state, the Imnaha wolf pack has killed dozens of cattle over the past few years. State wildlife managers and ranchers have tried to figure out ways to keep the wolves at bay but found that they had become too accustomed to attacking cattle. The only option was the remove the wolves.
In the meantime, conservation groups sued and obtained an injunction blocking state wildlife managers from killing the wolves. Wolves are protected under the state's Endangered Species Act.
In this instance, there was no middle ground. On one side were ranchers dealing with the heartache and costs of dead livestock and other livestock whose weight gain was curtailed by the wolf attacks.
On the other side was a judge's order stopping the state from killing the wolves, which have resisted nonlethal efforts to keep them away from the livestock.
Into that scenario walked representatives of Gov. John Kitzhaber, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon Cattlemen's Association and the environmental groups Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands.
After nearly a year, they emerged with a compromise agreement to modify the state's wolf management plan in a way that allows ranchers to kill wolves caught chasing their livestock, provided certain conditions are met.
"There were many days when I thought it would never happen, but the parties, to their credit, all showed a very high degree of commitment to working out their interests on what they needed, whether it be for wolf protection and recovery, or for livestock and property protection, or, on the state's end, for science-based wildlife management," Brett Brownscombe, natural resources policy adviser for Kitzhaber, told an Oregon House committee.
The agreement would allow ranchers in the Imnaha area to kill a wolf caught attacking or chasing livestock, but only after one additional wolf attack had previously occurred. No state permit would be required for the rancher.
"I think what is different now, compared to 2005 when the wolf plan was adopted, is that we've had a number of years of not just hypothetically living with wolves, but really living with wolves," Brownscombe said.
Now it's up to the Legislature and the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to adopt the compromise. For the sake of all parties, we urge its acceptance by both bodies without modification.
It recognizes the reality of managing a predator and balancing that against protecting the livelihoods of ranchers.