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OR: Oregon’s wolf management plan may come to resemble Idaho’s

Idaho has seven times as many wolves and allows hunting and trapping in addition to “lethal control” for livestock and ungulate losses.

Eric Mortenson
Capital Press

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission heard from dozens of people with diametrically opposed views when it took its wolf plan review on the road to hearings in Klamath Falls and Portland this spring. When the commission sits down with ODFW staff June 8 in Salem, members will sift those viewpoints with their own to determine how the state will manage a top predator that wasn’t here when the plan was first adopted a dozen years ago. Adoption of a five-year plan is expected late this year.

Potential changes are on the distant horizon. Ultimately, the state will decide whether wolves are hunted like cougars and bears, whether USDA’s APHIS Wildlife Services — loathed by conservation groups — will investigate livestock attacks, whether to give livestock producers more leeway to kill wolves, whether to set population caps, and more.

A model of where Oregon’s wolf management may be headed can be found in Idaho, which was the source of the first wolves to enter Oregon and has much more experience balancing the presence of an apex predator with the interests and economic well-being of hunters and livestock producers.

Idaho has an estimated 800 wolves — probably more — and has actively managed them since federal officials took wolves off the endangered species list statewide in 2011.

Compared to Oregon, which documented 112 wolves at the end of 2016, Idaho’s numbers are staggering.

In 2015, hunters and trappers legally killed 256 wolves in Idaho, the same number as in 2014. Another 75 wolves were “lethally controlled.” Of those, 54 were killed in response to livestock depredations or by producers protecting herds. Another 21 wolves were taken out to protect deer and elk populations in Northern Idaho.

In all, Idaho documented 358 wolf deaths in 2015; two fewer than in 2014. Figures for 2016 were not available.

According to Idaho Fish and Game, the number of sheep and cattle killed by wolves has been “stable to declining” since the state began allowing hunting in 2009. In 2015, wolves killed 44 cattle, 134 sheep, three dogs and a horse.

Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore has described Idaho’s wolf population as healthy and sustainable.

Department spokesman Mike Keckler said the state has proven it can manage wolves in balance with livestock and prey species.

“There’s no doubt state management of wolves has been a success in Idaho,” Keckler said. “We remove wolves when they cause problems, we’re not afraid to do that. We move quickly when problems occur.”

The thought of Oregon adopting such an attitude doesn’t sit well with conservation groups.

“This is not Idaho,” Cascadia Wildlands legal director Nick Cady said pointedly during ODFW’s May 19 hearing in Portland.

Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild warn the state shouldn’t loosen its wolf management rules. Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild’s field coordinator in Northeast Oregon, said Oregon’s adherence to its adopted plan was one of the reasons there wasn’t more of an outcry when the department shot four members of the Imnaha Pack in 2016.

During the Klamath Falls and Portland ODFW hearings, representatives from the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, Oregon Hunters Association and Oregon Farm Bureau urged changes.

Among other things, producers say ODFW staff is spread too thin and sometimes can’t respond quickly to wolf attacks. They favor allowing Wildlife Services to investigate livestock attacks as well, and make the call on whether wolves were responsible. They oppose a draft plan proposal to change the lethal control standard to three confirmed depredations or one confirmed and four “probable” attacks within a 12 month period. The current standard is two confirmed depredations or one confirmed and three attempted attacks, with no time period set.

Todd Nash, a Wallowa County commissioner and the Cattlemen’s Association wolf chair, said a neighbor has eight cows. If wolves kill three in one night, he asked during the Portland hearing, does the producer have to endure two more attacks before lethal control is taken?

The groups also believe ODFW should continue collaring wolves, and should set a population cap for wolves in Oregon.

ODFW Director Curt Melcher said the commission heard good points from all sides.

“Even though folks don’t agree, they all got along just fine,” he said. “It was a respectful process. The other remarkable thing is that nobody is saying there shouldn’t be any wolves in Oregon. That wasn’t the case not too long ago. Everybody recognizes we’re going to have wolves in Oregon and we’re going to have to manage them.”

Melcher said Oregon’s plan anticipated reaching a point in the future where hunting becomes a part of wolf population management, as it is with other game animals. He said the original plan drafters also anticipated wolf management, including lethal control, becoming more routine. It is logical for Wildlife Services to help on depredation investigations he said. As wolves increase in number and geographical range, investigations become a workload management issue for ODFW, he said.

“I think we’ve done a good job so far,” he said. “We’ve navigated through potentially difficult waters and in large part have done it efficiently.”

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