For Immediate Release
Oregon’s Wolf Recovery Passes Consequential Threshold
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) shared consequential news that annual wolf counts confirmed at least 7 breeding pairs of wolves in Eastern Oregon for the third consecutive year. Conservationists responded to the news with mixed feelings.
“This is heartening news to anyone who values native wildlife. Wolves are getting a second chance in the Beaver State,” said Danielle Moser, Oregon Wild’s Wildlife Policy Coordinator . “However this announcement is also real reason for concern. Given Oregon’s recent policy on wolves and other non-game wildlife, it’s also a stark reminder of the challenges they face.”
Wolves were once abundant across Oregon but were shot, trapped, and poisoned as part of a government sponsored program of eradication. Under the protections of the Endangered Species Act, wolves have begun a meaningful recovery. Just 10 years ago, Oregon’s wolf population stood at zero. In the preceding decade, every known wolf had been shot by poachers, hit by cars, or relocated to neighboring states by ODFW.
A full report on the status of wolves is expected later this spring. Each year, interested stakeholders pour over the report. Looking back on 2016, conservationists expect to see an increase in conflict and wolf killing including previously unreported incidents of poaching gone unpunished. Just last week ODFW announced a wolf had been accidentally killed by a baited Cyanide trap - a practice that had been disallowed until wolves were stripped of state endangered protections last year.
Oregon’s wolf population remains primarily confined to the Northeast corner of the state. The annual growth rate of wolves is impressive, but expected given an abundance of unoccupied habitat and prey. However, in absolute numbers, the population remains small. All of Oregon’s known wolves are genetically related to a handful of wolves (themselves related) that were reintroduced into Central Idaho nearly 20 years ago.
“By the numbers, wolf recovery is on track, but a small number times a small number is still a small number. We still have a long way to go until we can declare ‘mission accomplished,” said Arran Robertson, Communications Manager for Oregon Wild. “It’s troubling that along with this announcement, ODFW can now authorize trophy hunting of wolves if they have the audacity to eat meat.”
Today’s announcement is consequential as it triggers Phase 3 of management in Eastern Oregon. That means ODFW may now authorize hunting of wolves. Phase 3 of Oregon’s Wolf Plan was written with intentionally ambiguous language in 2005. The state was legally mandated to begin a review of the plan in 2015 but instead focused on delisting the animal from the state Endangered Species Act. That decision has been challenged by independent scientists and continues to be challenged in court.
Under pressure from some hunting groups, rural politicians, and the livestock industry, ODFW has been resistant to clarifying language that allows hunting of wolves. The state has also been unwilling to carry forward enforceable parts of the plan that reduced conflict, increased transparency, and represented the only time the livestock industry and conservationists both supported the plan. Instead, in March of 2016, ODFW Commission Chair Michael Finley suggested considering a trophy wolf hunt that could serve as fundraiser for the agency.
Recent science has shown that wolf killing - especially recreational hunting - increases conflict and that reducing protections for wolves leads to increased poaching and decreased social acceptance. A poll released in 2016 showed rural and urban Oregonians alike oppose wolf hunting.
“Most Oregonians will see today’s news as a great success,” said Rob Klavins, an Oregon Wild Field Coordinator based in Wallowa County. “However a politically powerful minority sees any limitations on wolf-killing as a compromise. They have Oregon’s wildlife agency and legislators in a headlock. Oregon has a decision to make. Will we honor our natural heritage and let wolves retake their rightful place on the landscape? Or will we follow the path of states like Idaho and Wyoming and maintain a token persecuted population of wolves?”