By Katy Nesbitt For the East Oregonian
SALEM — The much anticipated vote by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioners on proposed updates to Oregon’s wolf plan is set for June 7 in Salem.
State wolf biologists briefed the commissioners Friday and took questions during a phone conference at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife headquarters. The review began in January 2016 but public and stakeholder concerns over a draft released in April 2017 forced department staff hold facilitated meetings to try and find better consensus on contentious issues.
Kevin Blakely, ODFW deputy division administrator, said the commissioners offered some ideas of what they wanted included in the staff’s formal presentation ahead of the commissioners’ vote.
“They asked us to come to the June 7 meeting and present the plan addressing a couple things to tee up the discussion, but are not looking to edit or re-do the review,” Blakely said.
One topic Blakley said staff is going to talk more about during its presentation is a proposed change to how many confirmed livestock losses equates into killing wolves. Right now, he said, Oregon Administrative Rule requires two confirmed livestock losses before the department will accept a request to kill wolves.
In a draft of the review, Blakely said three losses in 12 months would be the new trigger before staff would consider killing a wolf, but he said no one liked that proposal. The current draft proposes two livestock losses in nine months as the minimum.
Blakely pointed out that this trigger point is not mandatory, it only starts the conversation about eliminating wolves.
“That limit starts a potential process,” Blakely said. “There is value in that the department certainly has made different decisions depending on circumstances.”
During the call commissioner Holly Akenson said data revealed that in the past the department did not move to lethal control at the bare minimum loss.
“From what I know of those actions, many were denied,” Akenson said. “The new rule would mean we may or can go to lethal control — it does show this is not an automatic that we are killing wolves with two depredations in nine months.”
Commissioner Bruce Buckmaster agreed with Akenson and said the commission was looking at a new iteration of the plan.
“It makes sense that the plan reflect our practice rather than put in something we know we won’t follow,” Buckmaster said.
The other hot topic surrounding the plan review is hunting wolves. During the May 17 conference call, Blakely said staff decided proposing wolf hunting at this time is not appropriate. Wolf hunts would be considered if and when wolves were determined to be a major cause of the decline in deer and elk populations.
Wolf hunting has been part of the management strategy since the Oregon wolf plan was first approved in 2005, but under strict measures. Doug Cottam, ODFW wildlife division administrator, said using lethal control to help ungulate populations should be directly attributed to loss wolf predation.
“If we were to propose wolf hunting in the future, we need to consider how likely or defensible is that statement,” Cottam said.
Blakely said as with the most recent adoption of the cougar plan, the department manages other predators for ungulate populations, as well.
Commission chairman Michael Finley cautioned department staff members when considering wolf hunts in future reviews.
“Don’t get pushed into shooting wolves for a few more hunting licenses,” he said.
ODFW Director Curt Melcher said as the number of wolves increases, the public may need to help manage populations.
“We don’t have an unlimited staff,” Melcher said.
“At some point in the future we will need to enlist the help of the public. It’s a long standing model.”
All information regarding the June 7 Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting will be available on the ODFW website at www.dfw.state.or.us by May 28.