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OR: Meetings on wolf management plan spark debate

Ranchers, conservation groups continue to clash over management of wolves

By Stephen Hamway, The Bulletin

After two lengthy meetings on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s updated gray wolf management plan, the lines have generally been drawn. Ranchers want more control so local jurisdictions can lead investigations on dangerous wolves, and a lower threshold for killing them, while conservation organizations want more restrictions on hunting and trapping wolves.

The challenge, according to the fish and wildlife officials, is balancing those concerns. To that end, the organization held two meetings, one in Klamath Falls on April 21, and one held in Portland on Friday. Michelle Dennehy, wildlife communications coordinator for ODFW, wrote in an email that nearly 75 people signed up to comment on a draft of the updated management plan in Portland, and 40 testified in Klamath Falls.

Opinions on gray wolf management were clearly stated in the April meeting.

“Let’s manage that process so already economically struggling communities in Oregon do not experience any more economic loss,” said Rusty Inglis, president of the Harney County Farm Bureau.

The conservation group Oregon Wild drew its own line in the sand. “We do appreciate some of the changes, but we are sorry to say we cannot, on balance, support this wolf plan,” said Rob Klavins, the group’s northeast field coordinator.

In 2005, ODFW instituted a management plan to manage gray wolves as they return to the region. The canines are native to Oregon but saw their populations decline to the point of disappearance in the second half of the 20th century, according to the 2005 plan. The management plan, updated in 2010, provided a framework for how to manage wolf populations across the state once they were introduced.

Based on ODFW’s 2016 annual report, Oregon had a population of at least 112 wolves, concentrated primarily in the southern and northeastern portions of the state. ODFW released a draft of the updated management plan in April, in advance of the two public meetings.

Dennehy characterized the meetings as civil, but with wide disagreement on the particulars of the updated plan. During the Klamath Falls meeting, Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, criticized the update for raising the standard required for ODFW to issue a permit allowing ranchers to hunt or trap wolves, a key point of the updated plan.

“Our members are extremely concerned with the proposal to raise the threshold for lethal takes,” Rosa said in April. “We understood this change would not be considered, and are very disappointed to see it included in the proposed revisions.”

The ranching community also pushed for a greater degree of local control over investigations into wolf attacks on livestock, and a continued commitment to collaring wolves in every pack, which allows local communities to better understand how many wolves are nearby.

On the other side, Klavins voiced his displeasure that the plan doesn’t provide a clear standard for several of its concepts, and relies on flawed science for its wolf population model.

“Commendable concepts highlighted in the press release are meaningless if they’re not enforcible,” he said in April.

Dennehy wrote that the commission has scheduled a four-hour work session in Salem on June 5 to talk about the wolf plan among staff. The public will be allowed to attend, but will not be able to provide testimony.

There is no timeline for a final approval of the plan, Dennehy wrote Friday.