Oregon wolf reintroduction issue under debate

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 20, 2004
by WLJ
Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski would like to see wolves back in Oregon although the species has been extirpated from the state for more than 50 years. Last year, Kulongoski commissioned the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to draft a plan for wolf reintroduction. The 14-member committee appointed to advise and develop a draft a Wolf Management Plan concluded their scheduled meetings last week, however a consensus was not reached.
The 14-member group was designed to represent interests from livestock owners, to hunters and environmentalists. Given the diversity of the group, total agreement on how the wolves are suppose to be managed was not expected. But, as the livestock industry is noting, strong opposition for the plan is coming from the two producer members on the panel.
Sharon Beck, co-chair of the wolf task force for the Oregon Cattlemen's Association and member of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) wolf management task force, served on the panel, and said she cannot support the proposed plan. In the first place, Beck said wolves do not have a place in Oregon and, secondly, the plan is not fair to livestock owners.
The way the debacle began, Beck explained, is that cattle producers approached Oregon's FWS to request a delisting of the wolf citing the Oregon Act, which calls for a balanced use of the land, as well as the cost burden to manage wolves when the state is already in a budget deficit. According to federal government regulations, Oregon is not required to be host to gray wolves. Wolves were listed in Oregon because they were grandfathered in as part of the federal listing of the species.
Cattle producers filing a delisting proposal is what prompted environmentalist groups to file a petition to protect the species, according to Beck. She said the response producers received to their petition is there's not enough science to declare the wolf wasn't in danger of becoming extinct in Oregon. However, producers said FWS records indicate the wolf has not been present for more than half a century.
"It is one of those circular arguments that you just can't get a resolution too," said Beck. "How are we going to show they (wolves) are recovered when they aren't here."
Beck also said that, according to Oregon law, wolves don't have to be recovered, they just have to be conserved. But conservation can have various meanings. In her opinion, it should mean not killing wolves that enter the state. In the opinions of both the Department of Justice and the environmentalists', Beck explained conservation means allowing wolves to recover in Oregon. The management plan was written with the goal of recovering the wolves.
"My goal statement would have said that you keep wolves out and save money for the state," said Beck. "Their goal statement was to ensure the long-term survival and conservation of gray wolves while minimizing conflicts with humans, primary land uses and other Oregon wildlife."
As far as the specifics of the draft management plan, FWS proposes a minimum of four breeding pairs be present in Oregon for three consecutive years before the wolf will be removed from the endangered species list. It also proposes education of livestock producers and landowners on nonlethal management techniques. Then, depending upon the population growth of the wolves, there are three separate management plans proposed, all of which are not livestock owner friendly in Beck's opinion.
The draft proposal has three pieces of the plan that would require legislative action. Those three pieces are:
• Reclassification of the wolf to "special status mammal" within the game mammal category. Special status means opening up the range of management tools available to control populations of wolves, including hunting and trapping;
• Options for killing wolves, since it is not included in Oregon law;
• Funding for a compensation program that reimburses livestock owners for depredation of their livestock by introduced wolves.
Beck said she submitted a model to the panel asking for full and fair compensation to livestock owners. "We don't want them here, our ancestors killed the wolves off," said Beck. "But, if they do, they better figure out a way to pay for livestock that they kill and we will figure out a way to live with them. They also better give us a way to kill a wolf that we catch killing our livestock. In other words, it needs to be the state and the Commission's responsibility to take care of the wolf for what it does. That's what is written in Oregon law."
Eastern Oregon county commissioner, Ben Boswell the other adversary of the management plan that was on the panel with Beck. Boswell called the chore of establishing and managing wolves in Oregon a "fools errand." "I propose that wolves be kept from Oregon by whatever means are necessary," said Boswell. "Wolves have no biological, social or legal right to be in Oregon and certainly no one has a right to add a threat to our rural lifestyle."
The draft management plan was discussed by Beck, Boswell and the other panel members at a series of 10 meetings. However, Beck said the issues of depredation and compensation were skipped over in these meetings and since they reached the end of the term for the meetings the issues will not be discussed. Instead, the plan was presented to Oregon's FWS. Beck said she is presently writing a minority opinion of the management plan and will set the record straight on the legal status under which FWS is trying to reintroduce the wolves.
Beck is also writing a report and both opinions and reports will be submitted with the plan. These documents will be presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission who will have a rule making process and public meetings around the state. However, public testimony will not be taken at the meetings, which is a concern to Beck since she feels the Commission needs to know what people are thinking about the possibility of wolves in Oregon. After the meetings, the Commission will either adopt or delay the plan, possibly by January 7, when Oregon's legislature reconvenes. Even is the plan is adopted, the legislature will still need to vote on the three issues which fall under legal jurisdiction. — Sarah L. Swenson, WLJ Associate Editor