Conservation groups, Governor John Kitzhaber, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and the livestock industry have reportedly reached a compromise settlement agreement that resolves conservationists’ October 2011 lawsuit against ODFW’s lethal control of depredating wolves.
One of the conservation groups, Oregon Wild, announced the agreement in a May 24 press release.
“Oregonians treasure our state’s wildlife and want to see it protected,” said Dan Kruse, an attorney for Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands. “This settlement will put in place, for the first time, clear standards and public accountability for what must happen before ODFW or livestock interests can kill an endangered wolf, and measures that should reduce conflict between wolves and livestock.”
On Oct. 5, 2011, a coalition of conservation organizations filed a legal challenge against the state’s killing program that targeted endangered gray wolves. The groups believed the state’s actions violated both the state’s Wolf Plan and Endangered Species Act. That same day an appellate commissioner with the Oregon Court of Appeals issued an injunction suspending the state’s ability to kill wolves on behalf of the livestock industry.
According to Oregon Wild, the settlement agreement resolves this legal conflict by establishing a new management framework which more clearly outlines steps that must be taken before the state can again consider killing endangered wolves. The agreement emphasizes the employment of responsible livestock husbandry practices and requires thorough use of proactive, non-lethal techniques to preempt conflict between wolves and livestock.
“We went to court because ODFW was breaking its own rules and state endangered species laws,” said Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild’s Wildlife Advocate. “This settlement is far from perfect, but it requires more transparency from the state and responsibility from the livestock industry. Now it’s up to the agency to honor the terms of the agreement and ensure wildlife management lives up to Oregon’s proud conservation values.”
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association also issued a release about the agreement.
“The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) has been involved in settlement talks beginning in 2012 in efforts to resolve the lawsuit and the injunction filed on October 5, 2011 which enjoined the lethal take of wolves involved with chronic depredation of livestock in Oregon,” the statement read, and went on to note that the industry “has invested over $250,000 and countless volunteer hours in wolf related research, education and this litigation since the migration of wolves to Oregon. OCA engaged in this case to ensure fair representation of the ranching community in Oregon’s wolf management policy. OCA is content with the settlement that was finally reached on Thursday, May 23rd.”
OCA’s statement continued: “In the last month; while the OCA, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), Department of Justice, Governor’s office and petitioners worked through concerns towards finalizing a settlement agreement, the cattle ranchers in Wallowa County have suffered several more depredations, injuries of livestock and missing livestock. OCA Wolf Committee Chair, Rod Childers, said: ‘The unsung heroes of this entire process have been the ranchers whom have patiently waited for a resolution to this ongoing wolf depredation problem, and have applied non- lethal measures that were applicable to their operations as directed by ODFW. As a rancher, I am relieved to see we now have all the tools in the box necessary for effective implementation of Oregon’s Wolf Conservation Plan.’”
In a phone interview Friday night with the Wallowa County Chieftain, Childers explained that the industry had agreed to an increase in the number of depredations a pack must commit before ODFW is allowed to take lethal measures. Where the current rule specifies a minimum of two depredations, the new rule takes that level to four. The rule is expected to be adopted when the state’s fish and wildlife commission meets July 3.
Under the raised threshold, members of the Imnaha Pack could be subject to lethal measures after the pack’s next depredation incident, assuming that incident occurs within the next few months.
Childers said the deal also calls for passing a permit-less take measure (House Bill 3452) that includes language allowing ranchers to shoot wolves that have been chasing livestock, a more workable threshold for ranchers than an earlier-introduced Senate bill’s requirement that ranchers catch wolves in the act of attacking.
“The agreement is through Phase One of the (Oregon) Wolf Plan,” Childers said. “It doesn’t go through perpetuity.”
He said wolf population growth in Oregon is currently on track to reach the target for ending Phase One – four breeding pairs for three consecutive years – on Jan. 1, 2015.