Three wolf-advocate groups took the state of Oregon to court today to stop the killing of two more wolves in the Imnaha pack. And they're asking Gov. John Kitzhaber to "call off the hunt" for the wolves.
The conservation groups say the wolf management plan that allows the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill two of Oregon's 14 confirmed wolves violates the state's Endangered Species Act.
Meanwhile, I had to delete two obscene comments – one pro-wolf and one anti-wolf – on my last post about the state's wolf-killing plan.
The rough sequence of events that got us here:
- Earlier this year, a congressional budget rider removed wolves from the federal Endangered Species Act and handed wolf management over to the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Utah.
- So, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife kicked its hotly contested Wolf Management Plan into action. The plan calls for ranchers to use non-lethal methods of protecting their livestock from wolves, but it also allows the state to authorize the killing of problem wolves that repeatedly attack livestock.
- The Imnaha pack was linked to six confirmed livestock losses early this year, and the state killed two of of the pack's members in May to discourage further depredation.
- Last month, a tracking collar revealed that the alpha male of the pack had been in the neighborhood when another calf was killed on private property. ODFW announced a plan to kill two more wolves to shrink the pack and prevent more livestock attacks.
Wolf advocates say the state is downplaying the required non-lethal wolf controls and caving too quickly to pressure from ranchers to kill wolves – particularly in this case, where the killing would leave only the alpha female and one cub in the pack. Some who supported the state's wolf management plan when it was finalized last year are now turning on it.
"Under the wolf plan, shooting endangered wolves was supposed to be the last resort, not the first option whenever a cow goes missing," 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 supports the state's decision to kill the two Imnaha wolves, but it has complaints of its own. The state Legislature passed a wolf compensation bill that allows ranchers to be reimbursed for livestock killed by wolves, but the state has to confirm the death was a wolf kill first. Ranchers argue ODFW is biased against confirming livestock losses to wolves, and they want to be able to appeal the state's decisions to a group of third-party experts.
“Frustration among ranchers is mounting from the conflicting wolf kill determinations to date," Oregon Cattlemen's Association Director Kay Tiesl wrote to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. "More specifically, because the ODFW determinations tend to widely differ from those wildlife experts and livestock professionals who have been on investigation sites time and time again.”
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say they're trying to maintain and recover the wolf population in Oregon without losing public support in the areas where the wolves live.
“We need to be diligent in addressing livestock losses by wolves, especially when livestock producers have done their part and undertaken non-lethal efforts,” ODFW wolf coordinator Russ Morgan said before the state killed two wolves earlier this year. “We believe doing so is critical to long-term public support for wolves and overall wolf conservation efforts.”