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A state trooper shows a bull elk shot dead and left to waste in Douglas County, the second case of elk poaching in the county in October. Conservation groups opposed to hunting wolves say poachers are a far greater threat to Oregon's elk and deer.

An opinion poll commissioned by conservation groups shows a clear majority of Oregonians favor non-lethal means of deterring wolves from attacking livestock and don’t believe the state should allow sport hunting of wolves.

The results come as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is reviewing its wolf management plan, a work in progress that in 2015 saw the ODFW Commission remove wolves from the state’s endangered species list. Conservation groups such as Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity believe the state acted hastily and maintain the wolf population is too fragile for delisting or allowing hunting.

The commission began the review work earlier this month at a public meeting in La Grande, Ore. Even though the commission wasn’t scheduled to take action during the meeting, 54 people showed up to testify. ODFW staff will present a draft plan to the commission in December.

Among the poll highlights:

• 74 percent of respondents favor compensating ranchers for livestock losses, as is now done.

• 72 percent approve of killing wolves responsible for repeated livestock attacks.

• Almost 82 percent believe poachers pose a greater threat to Oregon’s deer and elk populations than wolves. Rural residents were strongest in that belief, nearly 88 percent. Oregon State Police this week reported two cases of poachers shooting bull elk.

• 67 percent oppose hunting wolves as a means to protect deer and elk, and 72 percent oppose “trophy hunting” of wolves.

The issue of hunting wolves is likely to come up as the ODFW Commission reviews the management plan. Hunting groups are concerned about game population; others point out that Oregon allows hunting of cougars, another predator that takes deer and elk.

In 2015, a retired ODFW wildlife biologists told the Capital Press that healthy deer and elk populations serve as a buffer between livestock and Oregon’s predators, which include 25,000 to 30,00 bears, an estimated 6,200 cougars and wolves, which have grown from 14 in 2009 to more than 100 in 2015.

The survey also probed some misconceptions. Presented a range of zero to more than 1,000, respondents were asked how many cattle were killed by Oregon wolves in 2015. Among Portland-area residents, 29 percent thought the number was 100 to 999.

Informed in a follow up question that only four cows were killed in 2015, 67 percent of those surveyed said wolves do not pose an economic threat to the cattle industry.

Oregon ranchers, however, have always maintained that far more cattle are killed by wolves than are confirmed by ODFW investigators. They say grazing cattle sometimes simply disappear.

The state’s annual wolf report listed three calves killed and two others injured by wolves in 2015. Wolves also killed a herd guard dog, eight ewes and two lambs, according to the report.

The state conducted 33 livestock “depredation” investigations in five counties during 2015. Nine were confirmed as wolf attacks; two were listed as probable; 13 were categorized as possible or unknown; and eight were considered “other” incidents.

The poll was commissioned by the Pacific Wolf Coalition and was conducted Sept. 20-22 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc., of Washington, D.C.

The company conducted telephone interviews with 800 registered Oregon voters who were selected at random from voter registration files. Responses were broken down by age, sex, political party affiliation, and residence: Rural, Willamette Valley and Portland metro area.

Mason-Dixon estimated the poll’s margin of error at plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The website FiveThirtyEight, which analyzes opinion polls, in 2016 gave Mason-Dixon a B+ for accuracy in its political polling work.

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