By Andrew Theen
Oregon’s long-awaited update to how the state manages its still-rebounding wolf population will have to wait until February at the earliest.
Fish and Wildlife commissioners decided Friday to push back a scheduled January vote on the five-year governing document for the canid, the first comprehensive update to the wolf plan since 2010.
It wasn’t immediately clear if commissioners would vote on a plan in February, as the agenda already includes an update on the threatened marbled murrelet seabird population.
Wolves were removed from the state’s endangered species list in 2015. The management plan sets rules for how and when wolves can be killed, a hot topic for ranchers in eastern Oregon as the animals continue to rebound after being hunted to near extinction in the 1940s.
Friday’s delay came after more than an hour of testimony from invited panels of environmental groups and hunters and ranchers — where both sides of the bitter fight expressed various concern about the proposed plan.
Environmental groups argued that the plan included inconsistencies about how many confirmed attacks on livestock are needed before an animal can be killed, and opened the door to authorized hunting through a newly created “special permit agent” process where private citizens could carry out approved wolf kills.
“We still have a recovery program that’s very much in its infancy,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species coordinator for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, “and I think requires a conservative approach.”
According to the state’s most recent population estimate, Oregon has around 112 wolves. That count represents the lowest known estimate of the animals, and state officials have hinted the next population count would be higher.
Hunters and ranchers said the plan doesn’t do enough to address already difficult circumstances for livestock owners in Wallowa County and elsewhere, where wolves are attacking livestock despite non-lethal efforts to stop them.
Todd Nash, an Enterprise rancher, showed pictures of wolf attacks and said that rural farmers are already throwing their livelihood into protecting their animals.
Despite a state compensation fund to help alleviate cost for ranchers, Nash said, not every rancher receives that support.
“We had a number of cattle that were unconfirmed [wolf kills],” he said. “We had a number of cattle that weren’t confirmed.”
The commission is scheduled to meet Feb. 8 and 9 in Portland.