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OR: Oregon’s wolf management plan moves forward despite opposition

By Kale Williams | The Oregonian/OregonLive

After years of contentious meetings, the hiring of an outside facilitator to find common ground among stakeholders and a last minute withdrawal by conservation groups, Oregon’s revised wolf management plan will finally get a vote, nearly five years after it was due.

The revised plan will be sent to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife commission for a final vote in March, according to state officials.

Wolves have long been a source of strain in Oregon, especially in the northeast and south where the canids are clustered. Conservationists have long argued that the wolf plays an important role in the state’s ecosystem and has a historical right to exist here.

On the other side of the negotiating table, ranchers and hunters have said wolves wreak havoc on livestock and endanger their livelihoods.

The answer, according to conservationists, is non-lethal deterrents that will keep wolves from preying on livestock. Ranchers and hunters want more lenient rules on when wolves that repeatedly kill cows and sheep can be killed.

The first wolf management plan was implemented in 2005 and revised in 2010, just a year after wolves made their return to Oregon after decades of extirpation. The plan was supposed to be updated every five years, but the 2015 revisions became mired in argument and repeated delays ensued.

Last year, The state hired a professional facilitator who presided over five meetings with stakeholders from August 2018 through early January. But just before their last meeting, scheduled for Jan. 8 in Clackamas, all four of the conservation groups — Defenders of Wildlife, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity — announced that they would be pulling out of the talks.

The main sticking points in past negotiations have come over when and how lethal action can be taken against wolves that kill livestock.

Quinn Read, Northwest director for Defenders of Wildlife, said none of the proposals put forth by the conservation consortium were seriously considered by state officials, who they claim tried to act both as a stakeholder and a neutral arbiter.

“It was a very difficult decision to make after years of advocacy and coming to the table in good faith,” Read said. “If we thought there was still an opportunity for meaningful discussion, we would be there.”

Derek Broman, carnivore coordinator for the state agency, said it was disheartening to have roughly half the stakeholders pull out just before the last meeting.

“We were disappointed these groups left the discussion and we did not have the full stakeholder group present at the final meeting,” Broman said in a statement. “Since the drafting of the original 2005 plan, stakeholders remain very passionate so consensus is challenging to achieve.”

Jim Akenson, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, recognized that negotiations had been heated at times, but said he felt the process had been fair.

Where they live, how many there are and how they are managed in different parts of the state.

The biggest point of contention came over the definition of “chronic depredation.” Once a wolf has been deemed a chronic depredator, the state can kill the wolf to protect livestock.

“Currently, the Plan allows for consideration of lethal removal after two confirmed depredations within no specific time frame,” the state said in a statement. “But ODFW typically authorizes lethal removal after three or more confirmed depredations. In practice, ODFW has denied more lethal removal requests for wolves than it has approved.”

It remains to be seen what criteria will need to be met for the “chronic depredator” label to be applied. Officials said the revised plan would be available to the public prior to the commission’s vote on March 15.

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