SALEM, Ore.— The Oregon Court of Appeals has issued a temporary injunction stopping the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from killing the alpha male and another wolf from the Imnaha Pack. The ruling prevents the state from killing the two wolves until the court can fully consider the case; it came after three conservation organizations challenged the legality of the agency’s wolf-killing program.
Nonprofit groups Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild filed the legal challenge aimed at halting the shooting. By reducing the pack to only the alpha female and a young pup, the loss of the two wolves would likely have been the nail in the coffin for the Imnaha Pack, which was the state’s first wolf pack since wolves were exterminated nearly 65 years ago. Oregon’s recovering wolf population has fallen from a high of 21 as recently as last year to 14 confirmed wolves in the state today.
“This is a great first step in ensuring wolf recovery in Oregon and the survival of the Imnaha Pack,” said Josh Laughlin, campaign director of Cascadia Wildlands. “Being so early in the recovery process it is critical that wolf populations are maintained, particularly the breeding individuals. It is hard to understand why the state would choose to essentially remove this pack from existence.”
The legal challenge argues that in allowing the killing of two of Oregon’s 14 surviving gray wolves, the state’s wolf-management plan is inconsistent with the Oregon Endangered Species Act, which specifically prohibits such action. Plaintiffs in the case include groups that formerly supported the wolf plan but now believe the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is abusing its authority to kill wolves while downplaying portions of the plan that focus on conservation, education, and requiring livestock operations to adopt nonlethal alternatives to shooting wildlife.
“With the stay of execution for these two wolves, the Imnaha Pack has a chance at survival,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Killing wolves does nothing to reduce livestock depredations. Instead, the Oregon Department of Wildlife should focus on working with willing ranchers to change their practices to reduce conflicts with livestock.”
The Sept. 23 kill order was not the first time the state authorized killing of wolves in Oregon in response to requests from the livestock industry. In 2009, the state sanctioned an order that led to the killing of two wolves in Baker County. The agency planned to kill two Imnaha Pack wolves in 2010, but was stopped by a court challenge from the same conservation groups opposing this latest kill plan.
Earlier this year, wolves lost federal Endangered Species Act protection via a congressional budget rider. Shortly after, Oregon Fish and Wildlife ordered the killing of two additional wolves in response to a series of livestock losses blamed on the Imnaha Pack. Following those killings, some members of the pack dispersed, leaving just four members, two of which were the target of the most recent kill order. Under the state wildlife agency’s management, Oregon’s wolf population has dropped from 21 to 14 this year due to lethal control, poaching, dispersal and the accidental death of a young female after Fish and Wildlife staff fit her with a radio collar.
Some of the groups involved in today’s lawsuit had originally supported the management plan as a compromise because it required landowners to adopt nonlethal measures before lethal control could be carried out. The groups, however, have become increasingly frustrated by the wildlife agency’s willingness to shoot wolves in response to political pressure from powerful livestock industry interests, including the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.
“Wolves earned a temporary reprieve today,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild. “Oregonians who value wildlife were outraged by the decision to kill more endangered wolves. Going to court was an option of last resort, but with ODFW continuing to bend to political pressure and the governor’s office ignoring pleas from thousands of citizens, we were left with very few options. It’s time for the state to stop killing and start prioritizing conservation.”
When the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife took public comment on the management plan in 2010, the overwhelming majority of comments favored increased protection for Oregon’s fragile wolf population. The Imnaha Pack is one of only three packs known to exist in the state today. Wolves have migrated back into the state from Idaho after gray wolves were reintroduced in 1995 and are currently protected under the Oregon Endangered Species Act.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Dan Kruse in Eugene and Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Tim Ream.