The gray wolf has been on Oregon's endangered species list for decades.
But that might change soon.
That's because the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is recommending the wolf be taken off the list. The state's Fish and Wildlife Commission could vote on that recommendation as soon as Nov. 9. It's a tense issue for some independent scientists and conservationists who believe the wolf should retain its endangered status for now.
OPB All Things Considered host Kate Davidson spoke with Ron Anglin, administrator of ODFW's wildlife division, about his department's recommendation.
Q&A with Ron Anglin
Kate Davidson: We should remind people that Oregon has something called the Wolf Plan. It says now that eastern Oregon has had four breeding pairs of wolves for three years in a row, the state can consider delisting the wolf. Why do you think Oregon's wolf population shouldn't be considered endangered anymore?
Ron Anglin: When we looked at that, what we found was wolves are reproducing, growing, and expanding at a very high rate. They're really filling in their territory very quickly. They're reproducing very, very well. Their range or their habitat is not threatened in any way. And the commission is controlling how wolves are being utilized. So that typically is what we would call "take" or killing of wolves. And the commission's Wolf Plan really provides the mechanism for protection of wolves. So when we look at those five factors together, we're able to check all those boxes and say wolves qualify for delisting. Then it's up to the commission on whether they want to make that decision or not.
Davidson: What is your response to scientific criticism that a population of 80-some wolves in the state isn't yet big enough to delist? That it's still too vulnerable?
Anglin: Well vulnerability is really based on: Do you have protections in place for whatever size the population is? Whether wolves are delisted or not, the Wolf Plan is still in place. The Wolf Plan still regulates when wolves may be taken, and under what circumstances. And the Wolf Plan is designed to ensure that wolf populations remain stable and give that opportunity to refill some of their historic habitat.
Davidson: It's my understanding that the same population threshold that triggered this status review of the wolf also means moving into a new phase of management under the Wolf Plan. Have restrictions eased, or will they ease, on when ranchers or the state can kill problem wolves?
Anglin: So the Wolf Plan was designed with three different phases. And Phase One, which is where we started, when there's the lowest number of wolves, is the most restrictive. In Phase Two, some of those restrictions have eased. The triggers that allow lethal removal of wolves are set a little bit lower. But landowners are still required to take non-lethal actions and try and deter wolves from causing livestock damage.
Davidson: So have we moved into Phase Two now, already?
Anglin: We are in Phase Two. That happened automatically once we exceeded four breeding pairs for three years in a row. That happened with the start of 2015.
Davidson: If wolf management proceeds along a track that's determined by the Wolf Plan and not by endangered species status, what is the difference between being listed or not listed?
Anglin: An ESA (Endangered Species Act) listing probably has more impact on a species who's having its habitat actively degraded, or is under some kind of other threat that's driving a population down. In this particular case with wolves, the habitat, like I said, is not being degraded. There are not actions being taken to drive the population down, and we can manage those threats, if you will, whether wolves are listed or not.