In a move that is sure to cause no small amount of controversy, Oregon Fish & Wildlife voted to remove the gray wolf from its endangered species list.
This week the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) issued a news release indicating that it had voted to adopt the recommendation of DFW biologists to remove the gray wolf from the state’s endangered species list.
The commission voted 4-2 in favor of delisting wolves, basing their decision on field studies indicating that the state’s target wolf population goal of four breeding pairs for three consecutive years had been met.
Biologists have documented at least 81 known wolves in the state. They also determined that conditions are conducive to a continually growing population and that wolves will necessarily expand their range into new territories in the state.
The video below was taken by the DFW in 2009 in the Imnaha Wildlife Management Unit and shows a pack of at least 10 wolves that the department had been monitoring since 2008.
Speaking about the Oregon wolf management program earlier this year, DFW Wolf Coordinator Russ Morgan had declared, “This is a success story. Not very many years ago, we had no known wolves in Oregon. Now we not only have wolves, but the population is healthy and growing.”
DFW Commissioner Holly Akenson echoed Morgan’s optimism: “I am very confident that we are going to have a healthy, sustainable population of wolves in Oregon. We have the protections and the desire to maintain a wolf population in Oregon.”
And yet, as might be expected, the assessment that wolf recovery is doing well in Oregon was met with skepticism by animal rights advocates.
Environmentalists strongly opposed the vote to delist wolves. They cited disagreement with the timing of the commission vote, which they considered hasty, and the fact that the decision covers removing wolves from endangered status throughout the state rather than in specific regions.
They also claimed that political considerations influenced the vote, alleging that commission members gave unfair consideration to local ranchers and hunters who favored delisting. Amoroq Weiss, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity claimed that “Implementers of the plan are subject to the whims of political, economic and social pressures.”
The DFW video below shows an Imnaha Pack alpha female with two pups recorded in 2010.
Kelly House, reporting for The Oregonian, wrote,
Emotions ran high as dozens of wolf advocates and foes lined up to plead their case before the commission. A standing room only crowd of about 200 packed the room.
The lines of allegiance were clearly drawn. On the right side of the room sat wolf advocates, most from western Oregon with several wearing orange T-shirts bearing a wolf’s image. Hunting advocates and Eastern Oregon ranchers in cowboy hats sat on the left.
Commission Chair Michael Finley noted in the DFW press release that regardless of what side attendants were on, both were there because they cared about the issue and, ultimately, about wolves.
“The Wolf Plan has been working well and you are all responsible for that,” Finley said. “We will remember the merits of the Wolf Plan and the next one will be as good or better. You can all help that happen.”
The DFW video below was taken in mid-2012 during a survey for wolf pups in the Snake River Wildlife Management Unit.
The decision to remove wolves from endangered status will have little practical effect on how wolves are managed in Oregon. The big predators are still protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
Oregon law also prohibits killing wolves except in cases of self defense. Even ranchers are subject to tight regulations concerning instances of livestock predation.
In other words, there will be no legal hunting for wolves anytime soon, although that is the fear of animal rights advocates.
The opposing sides did, however, find some areas of agreement and common ground.
Oregon state law indicates that the listing or delisting of wildlife from species status consideration must be a statewide classification. The commission is requesting the State Legislature to revise that law to allow for animals to be delisted in specific portions of the state, rather than as a statewide status.
Also, the commission is requesting an increase in the allowable penalties for the unlawful killing of a wolf. The delisting also has no effect on the current maximum fine of $6,250 and a year in jail.