By Quinn Read
Wolves were once abundant throughout Oregon, but by the 1940s they were wiped out by hunters, poisoning campaigns and bounties. Thanks to conservation efforts by a variety of local, state and federal agencies and organizations, wolves are making a comeback in Oregon. Yet a draft plan threatens to turn back the clock on wolf recovery by weakening protections and opening the door to hunting and trapping.
At a public hearing in Portland on May 19, Oregonians can weigh in on the draft Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, which will guide how wolves are managed in the state for at least the next five years. Since wolves were removed from Oregon’s endangered species list a year ago, the wolf population appears to have stagnated. This year’s Oregon wolf count shows three fewer breeding pairs and one fewer pack in the state, though severe weather made surveying difficult. These numbers show we cannot take wolf recovery in Oregon for granted.
The draft Wolf Plan is heading in the wrong direction. It ignores the impacts of wolf poaching in the state and includes terms requested by hunting proponents as “a foot in the door” for a future general wolf hunting season. The draft would allow private hunters and trappers to carry out state-sanctioned killings of wolves to address so-called chronic livestock depredations. This means three or more livestock deaths caused by wolves within a year, but the new policy would also include a lower standard for determining whether livestock deaths were caused by wolves. Moreover, the state could issue permits to kill wolves if there are declines in elk and deer populations, even when wolves are not the primary reason for these declines. This is a clear departure from what the majority of Oregonians want for wolves in our state.
The draft Wolf Plan does have some promising components, including expanded descriptions of non-lethal tools such as livestock-guarding dogs and fencing to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts, detailed direction to reinitiate state protections when wolf populations decline, and the formation of a citizen advisory group to foster ongoing communication and collaboration among stakeholders.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission should reject proposals that make it easier for the public to kill wolves, and should instead focus on new data, scientific research and lessons learned in Oregon. Oregon is a national leader in wolf recovery and has documented fewer wolf-livestock conflicts than any other wolf-occupied state in the nation. The updated Wolf Plan should reflect our conservation leadership and strengthen – not weaken – requirements for the use of non-lethal coexistence tools. Oregonians have a unique opportunity to speak out on behalf of wolves. Let’s not slide backwards towards a culture that favors killing wolves over protecting them.
Quinn Read is a northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife.