Delisting proposal would trigger public comment period
By MITCH LIES
ALBANY, Ore. -- What wolves there are in Western Oregon and Western Washington may lose their federal Endangered Species Act protection after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completes a regional review this fall.
"The service is taking a serious look at that," said Paul Henson, Oregon state supervisor for the federal agency.
Henson's comment came during a question-and-answer session May 12 at the Oregon Gray Wolf Conservation and Management Symposium in Albany.
The service is conducting regional reviews of wolf populations in the Northwest, Southwest and Northeast, Henson said. The reviews were recommended in the service's regular five-year status review of the wolf, which it completed in February.
Currently wolves in eastern Oregon and Washington are protected under state endangered species acts, but aren't federally listed.
The review is analyzing whether to break out one or more distinct population segments from the Northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolf, which now comprises all wolves in the Northwest U.S.
Henson said a delisting recommendation would trigger several steps, including a public comment period.
To date, only one wolf is known to have wandered through Western Oregon. Known as OR7, the collared wolf now is in Northern California.
Henson said the service believes 1,775 Rocky Mountain gray wolves roam the Western United States.
But David Allen, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said in a later presentation he believes the service dramatically underestimates the wolf population.
The 1,700 number has been used by agencies since 2009, Allen said.
"(Wolves) increase at a rate of about 30 percent a year, but for some reason, we still have 1,700 in 2012," he said.
Allen cited a biologist who estimated 3,000 wolves roam the Western United States.
The gray wolf, which was hunted to extinction in the Northwest in the 1930s, was listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1974. Wolves were reintroduced to the Western U.S. in 1995.
The symposium brought together state and federal wildlife officials, ranchers and Allen, who long has advocated for more stringent wolf management.
Allen said that more than 70,000 wolves roam North America.
"That does not qualify in my view as an endangered species," he said.
Allen countered contentions that wolves do not inhabit their historical ranges by saying, nothing does.
"Most likely there is no species that is now in its entire native range," he said. "Man is here.
"We've got to start including man in the debate," Allen said.
Allen told the symposium's 200 participants that wolf populations should be managed much like elk.
"We have to quit pretending that we just have to let them be and let them go and it will take care of itself," he said.
"We've got to start having a rational debate," Allen said, "not something that is emotional and over the top."
Elk populations have declined in some areas where wolves and other predators are present, Allen said.
In Yellowstone National Park, the Northern Yellowstone Elk herd has declined from 19,000 in 1995 to 5,000 today.
Allen acknowledged that bears, cougars and a loss of habitat are contributing to lower elk numbers in Western states. But, he said, each adult wolf kills 25 to 30 head of elk a year, making them a major factor in the decline.