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OR: State argues wolf kills will help pack

By Joseph Ditzler East Oregonian Publishing Group

Oregon conservationists hoping to stop the killing of problem wolves are doing the species more harm than good, the state argued Wednesday in a filing with the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The contention came in a response to the court’s Oct. 5 order halting the killing of two Wallowa County wolves.

Three conservation groups obtained the stay from the court even as a rifleman with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife tracked the animals. They argued that killing the two targeted animals, both implicated in preying on livestock, would decimate the Imnaha pack and hinder the species’ reintroduction into Oregon.

The conservationists also claim the state has no authority under the Oregon Endangered Species Act to kill wolves.

But lawyers for the Oregon Department of Justice argue the conservationists’ claims are not likely to stand up in court. They say the stay order on killing the two wolves, the alpha male and a sub-adult, should be lifted.

The state Wolf Management Plan allows for killing wolves in cases of “chronic depredation,” according to a brief filed by Oregon Attorney General John Kroger, state Solicitor General Anna M. Joyce and Senior Assistant Attorney General Inge D. Wells.

ODFW decided to kill the two wolves after determining their responsibility for killing a calf Sept. 22 near Joseph.

Fifteen cases of cattle deaths since May 2010 illustrate that non-lethal methods such as range riders, flagging fences and radio-activated guard devices have been unsuccessful, the state argues. Killing the wolves is a necessary last resort to “foster human tolerance of wolves, thus ensuring their survival in Oregon,” the brief states.

The wildlife department on Oct. 27 reported another case of a wolf attack on livestock, a cow injured and later euthanized, according to department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy. She said another wolf of the Walla Walla pack, the second in a week, a male pup, was collared Wednesday.

The state argues that killing two wolves “will not cause irreparable harm to the gray wolf population in Oregon, and, in fact, will aid in the recovery of the species…,” according to the brief.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for Center for Biological Diversity, one of the three conservation groups, this morning said they don’t see an exemption in state law that allows the state to kill wolves.

“There’s really no evidence that killing wolves increases tolerance. In fact, there are studies that show it doesn’t increase tolerance, he said “The wolf population is too small to take these kinds of killings.”

The state counts 14 wolves in Oregon and under the management plan is required to treat them as endangered until at least four breeding pairs are established in Eastern Oregon for three consecutive years.

“While the population continues to be endangered, petitioners have not demonstrated that the loss of two wolves from the Imnaha pack will have a detrimental effect on the species as a whole,” the state argues.

The state argues that the wildlife agency doesn’t exceed its authority under the state Endangered Species Act by killing problem wolves. As long as removing wolves linked to livestock losses is “in furtherance of the conservation goals of the Endangered Species Act and is necessary for the recovery of the species of the whole,” the department is on solid legal ground, the brief states.

The state argues the conservationists’ lawsuit would not likely prevail on its merits and should be dismissed. Arguments have yet to be scheduled.