A gray wolf.

A gray wolf.

USFWS - Pacific Region / Flickr

How and when can a wolf be killed for preying on livestock? It’s a question cattle ranchers, conservationists and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have been grappling with for years. ODFW released its long-overdue update to the state’s wolf management plan April 12. The draft plan contains some significant changes that will affect both wolves and the humans that interact with them. 

The deadline for the wolf plan has been a moving target, and a number of factors contributed to the delayed release. The draft was originally due in 2015, but in that year the wolf population in Eastern Oregon grew large enough to require the state to consider delisting wolves from its index of endangered species. Ultimately they were delisted, requiring changes wolf management. ODFW revealed those changes in 2017.

After that, negotiations among stakeholders got so contentious that the state brought in a professional facilitator to try to find consensus. The current draft plan is the result of that process.

Yet even after months of mediated discussion, ranchers and conservationists could not reach an agreement. Four participating conservation groups walked away from the final meeting, describing the process as “biased, superficial, and unscientific.”

“We were very disappointed about the absence of those [conservation] groups in that last meeting,” ODFW carnivore furbearer coordinator Derek Broman told OPB’s “Think Out Loud.” 

The wolf management plan covers many topics, but the rules about killing wolves who prey on livestock are the most contentious. One of the biggest changes sets the thresholds for when ranchers can take lethal action. Under the current plan, any wolf with two confirmed depredations of livestock can be killed. Under the new plan, those two depredations must occur within a nine-month period.

Broman specified that even when that bar is reached, it is not an automatic death sentence for the wolf.

“The state is not obligated to go lethal,” Broman explained. “We have met that criteria numerous times … most of the time, that lethal request is not granted.”

The new draft describes and regulates a number of alternatives to killing the predators. These nonlethal methods include fences, dogs, noises, and spotlights, as well as experimental deterrents like inflatable tube men that are often seen in advertising used car lots.

While Broman said that ODFW is getting increased cooperation from ranchers in using nonlethal methods of deterrence, he conceded that many of those are not permanent solutions.

“We’re very excited about new and novel techniques,” Broman said. “But wolves are so incredibly intelligent … if something’s really not a real threat, they’ll exploit it.”

He also said the challenges of managing Oregon’s wolves will increase as the wolf population continues to bounce back from the previous local extinction.

“From 2017 to 2018, wolves expanded their range by about 1000 square miles,” Broman explained. “To help producers meet their needs and implementing nonlethal tools and techniques, it’s quite a challenge.”

Conservationists can take heart that Oregon’s wolves are doing well, according to Broman.

“We’re having more and more wolves show up here in Western Oregon, which is pretty exciting,” he said.

Broman says, in his view, wolves, humans, and livestock are not fundamentally incompatible. ODFW is working to promote a brokered peace between ranchers and and the wolves that are expected to be a permanent presence across Oregon.

“Coexistence is certainly a priority. We are hearing from even livestock producers in areas in Northeastern Oregon, who have been dealing with wolves for a decade, that they have been coming to terms with [the presence of wolves], recognizing, ‘Okay, this is just now part of my standard practice,’” said Broman.

According to the agency website, public testimony on the draft plan will be taken during a June 7 public meeting and can also be sent via email.