Oregon, which removed gray wolves from the state endangered species list Nov. 9, most likely will eventually allow hunting or trapping of wolves in order to manage their recovery, a Minnesota expert said.
David Mech, a University of Minnesota researcher who studies wolves and their prey, said wolf recovery and management tends to play out the same in every region, and probably will in Oregon as well.
Wolves are prolific and quickly disperse “far and wide” to new territory, he said.
“When the states get their (management) jurisdiction back, most states conclude they need to control the population in some way,” Mech said.
In Minnesota, the government authorizes hunters and trappers to kill 100 to 200 wolves annually to control depredation on livestock and pets, he said. Wolves in Minnesota are listed as “threatened” under the federal ESA rather than endangered.
Mech, pronounced “Meech,” was among 26 scientists who recently signed a letter asking U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to take gray wolves off the federal endangered species list in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The states have a combined population of more than 3,700 wolves and their numbers are “robust, stable and self-sustaining,” the scientists said in the letter.
“The integrity and effectiveness of the ESA is undercut if delisting does not happen once science-based recovery has been achieved,” the scientists continued. Failure to do so creates public resentment toward the species and the Endangered Species Act, they said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has four times moved to delist gray wolves in the western Great Lakes states but has been “foiled or reversed by litigation typically based on legal technicalities rather than biology,” the scientists said.
“It is ironic and discouraging that wolf delisting has not occurred in the portions of the Midwest where biological success has been achieved as a consequence of four decades of dedicated science-based work by wildlife management professionals,” they said in the letter.
Mech said he’s familiar with Pacific Northwest wolf issues, including Oregon’s action to take wolves off the state endangered species list.
He said Oregon’s wolf management plan — drawn up and approved by a group that included cattle ranchers and wildlife activists — clearly called for taking wolves off the state ESA when the population hit a certain level.
“They agreed to those delisting criteria,” Mech said. “When it was met it was sort of automatic; that’s really all that happened.”
To oppose state delisting now is “changing the rules in the middle of the game,” Mech said.
Gray wolves in the eastern third of Oregon and Washington were removed from federal ESA listing some time ago, but remain on the federal list in the western two-thirds of the states. Washington retains a state ESA listing statewide, as Oregon did before Nov. 9.
Idaho wolves were federally delisted in 2011, and the state allows hunters and trappers to kill them in season. In 2014-15, hunters and trappers killed 250 wolves in Idaho. They’ve killed 102 so far in 2015-16.
Mech agreed healthy deer and elk populations are a buffer between wolves and increased attacks on livestock. In the letter to Jewell asking for federal delisting in the Great Lakes states, he and the other scientists said an uncontrolled wolf population could upset the balance.
“There are few, if any, areas in these or surrounding states where wolves could live on natural prey without exceeding socially tolerable levels of depredation on livestock and pets,” the scientists said.
“There’s no reason to think wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota, or in those states combined, are threatened or in danger of extinction,” Mech said.