SALEM, Ore. (CN) – State officials relaxed rules Friday to make it easier to kill the state’s endangered gray wolves if they are found to have eaten livestock. Under the new rules, the commission can approve wolf kills if a pack is confirmed to have killed livestock twice in nine months.
Commissioners with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife voted six to one to approve an updated plan to manage the state’s 137 wolves after hours of contentious testimony sharply divided into two groups: ranchers and hunters on one side, who were mostly happy with the plan, and wolf advocates on the other, who rejected it.
The most contentious points are updates allowing wolf kills if a pack is found to have preyed upon livestock twice in nine months (a reduction from last year’s draft), a provision allowing members of the public to be involved in such wolf hunts and the plan’s lack of requirement for non-lethal management of conflicts between wolves and livestock.
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife biologist Derek Broman described the history of wolf management in Oregon and said the goal was to “maintain a conservation focus in all phases.” The plan updates Oregon’s first wolf management plan from 2005, which was developed before the first wolf to inhabit Oregon since they were wiped out by hunting in the 1930s swam the Snake River and established a pack in the rural northeast corner of the state.
The new plan uses Oregon-specific data, rather than using data from Canada and other western states that had wolves in 2005 to predict what would happen here.
“That’s really quite an accomplishment,” Broman said. “Again, kudos to us.”
Speaking over the deep percussive beat of drums from the protest just outside the commission’s doors, Broman outlined the various problems still facing Oregon wolves: a lack of genetic diversity, disease and reductions in habitat and biodiversity. Broman dismissed the threats wolves face from climate change and declines in biodiversity, calling them “secondary or tertiary because wolves are habitat generalists and they go where the food is.”
But Broman said the gravest issue wolves face is the likelihood of being killed by humans.
“Certainly human-caused mortality is the number one concern of the department,” Broman said.
Seven hours of contentious debate later, the commission adopted plans allowing ranchers to choose their own members of the public to participate in wolf hunts, should they be authorized on the basis of livestock kills.
“We do not dictate or control who the landowner designates as their agent,” Broman said.
Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, objected to the plan in testimony before the commission, pointing to a series of research papers showing that hunting is ineffective at reducing wolf/livestock conflict and that culling of wolves by agency action and hunting by citizens leads to increases in poaching.
On that, the opposing sides were in agreement. Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, told Courthouse News that killing individual wolves doesn’t stop livestock problems. Instead, Rosa said, entire packs should be killed.
“Taking one or two – that just makes the other ones left in the pack more aggressive,” Rosen said. “The science proves that.”
“This is a bad day in Oregon,” Weiss said after the vote. “The majority of commission members do not have the foresight to see that this microcosm of killing in Oregon is reflective of the larger, worldwide pattern of destruction of apex predators based on fear and greed.”