SALEM (AP) — The Oregon House voted Friday to allow state officials to kill two wolves that have been blamed for killing livestock, a priority for ranchers that is opposed by conservation groups.
The legislation is an attempt to resolve a potential conflict between Oregon’s wolf management plan and the state Endangered Species Act.
The Oregon Court of Appeals last year temporarily blocked the state from carrying out a kill order on two wolves from the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon. Judges ruled that conservation groups had a good chance of succeeding with a legal claim that state protections for endangered species overruled the wolf management plan, which allows wolves to be killed to reduce livestock attacks.
The House approved the measure 42-15, sending it to the Senate.
Proponents of the measure argue that killing wolves that develop a taste for cattle or sheep is in the long-term best interest of wolves and people who want to see their population expand.
Eliminating wolves that snack on livestock will discourage ranchers from taking matters into their own hands and quietly killing wolves, said Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton. There’s an old saying among ranchers frustrated by wolves, he said: “Shoot, shovel and shut up.”
“Those of you who support the reintroduction of wolves into our society should be first in line to vote for this bill,” said Jenson, a Republican from Pendleton.
Conservation groups disagree. They argue that by providing a loophole for killing wolves, the bill would create a precedent for getting around state protection for any species that gets in the way of logging, ranching, or development.
Rep. Chris Harker, D-Beaverton, said he decided to oppose the legislation after speaking with friend who own a ranch in Montana.
“They believe that compensation for livestock killed by wolves is the best way to go about this, and not to kill the wolves,” Harker said.
House Bill 4158 was introduced by Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, at the request of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.
Conservation groups have not opposed other wolf kill orders, but they challenged the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s plans for the Imnaha last fall because they believed the pack would likely die out with just the alpha female and a pup left. The Imnaha was the original pack to form in Oregon from wolves moving in from Idaho, and it’s the only one blamed for livestock deaths.
One 2-year-old male wolf from the pack has gained national attention after leaving the pack and trekking more than 1,000 miles looking for a mate. The wolf, known as OR-7, dropped into California on Dec. 28 and since then has traveled more 500 miles. A GPS collar placed him most recently in Shasta County in northern California.