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Oregon ranchers declare war on wolves

by Bob Berwyn

Cattle industry asks lawmakers to OK wolf killing

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The cattle industry’s pathological war against wolves continues in Oregon these days, where — according to the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association — wolves are “terrorizing” the eastern part of the state, “ravaging, ripping flesh and gutting the gentle cattle.”

To keep this in perspective, consider some of the stats: In 2011, wolves killed 25 cows, while 55,000 were lost to weather, disease and thieves in 2010. In the rare instances in which livestock are lost to wolves, ranchers are reimbursed at fair market value by Oregon taxpayers.

So along with ramping up the woe-is-me rhetoric, the cattle industry is pressuring Oregon lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow the state to kill the surviving members of the Imnaha pack of endangered gray wolves. This pack was the first to return to Oregon in more than 60 years. One of its members recently trekked to California, gaining fame as Wolf OR7.

Oregon wildlife officials had planned to shoot two wolves in the pack, but were blocked by a lawsuit filed by conservation groups, who want the state to balance requirements to protect endangered species with the needs of the cattle industry. At issue is whether Oregon has the legal authority to shoot endangered species.

The new legislation is aimed at circumventing the Oregon Endangered Species Act and could open the floodgates for similar measures to eliminate safeguards for wildlife that is unpopular with livestock, logging, and development interests.

“The overwhelming majority of Oregonians are thrilled to have wolves back in the state,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Oregon Cattlemen’s legislation is clearly out of step with public opinion and should be rejected.”

There are currently four packs of wolves in Oregon, with a total of 29 wolves protected under the state’s Endangered Species Act. In 2005, the state adopted a wolf-management plan that allows for wolves to be killed in response to livestock depredations, but only after nonlethal measures to solve problems with depredations have been used.

In September 2011, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife ordered the killing of the alpha male and a yearling from the Imnaha pack. This order followed the killing of two wolves from the pack earlier in the year and would have left only the alpha female and a pup to survive the winter.

The conservation have repeatedly requested documents from the Department of Fish and Wildlife demonstrating that nonlethal measures sufficient to solve depredation problems had been employed, but to date have not received anything of substance.

“Under the wolf plan, shooting endangered wolves was supposed to be the last resort — not the first option,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild. “We worked hard to develop a wolf plan that balanced wildlife conservation with the legitimate interests of ranchers, but the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and other anti-wildlife groups are refusing to honor their end of the bargain.”

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association has opposed, and sought to undermine, the state’s compromise wolf management plan since its inception.

“This isn’t the first time the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association has tried to legislatively undermine wolf protections in Oregon,” said Josh Laughlin, campaign director with Cascadia Wildlands. “We hope the Oregon legislature will stand up for Oregon’s recovering native wildlife and oppose this extreme wolf-killing legislation.”