Commission Approves State Plan to Manage Gray Wolves

Send by email Printer-friendly version Share this

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission Friday evening adopted a state wolf management plan, concluding nearly three years of public discussion and input to set the stage for state oversight of the species when they establish a breeding population in Oregon.

Wolves were extirpated from Oregon in the 1930s, but re-established populations in neighboring Idaho continue to thrive and wildlife managers anticipate wolves eventually will return to Oregon. They are currently listed as endangered under state law. No wolves are confirmed to exist in Oregon at this time.

The species remains protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, following an action last month by a federal judge, which changed the classification of gray wolves in Oregon to “endangered.” The new federal protection prohibits landowners from using lethal control on problem animals. The Commission’s adopted plan establishes management standards with an eye on the future.

“Wolves will return to Oregon eventually, and we want to be prepared to take the management reigns when the federal government relinquishes management authority to the state,” said Commission Chairwoman Marla Rae. “The plan we adopted today establishes Oregon’s wolf management framework for the future. We continue to work to balance the interests of all Oregonians with this plan. And we are now poised to assist federal wildlife managers until such time as they turn wolf management over to the state.”

The plan adopted Friday outlines numerous management actions and recommendations including delisting criteria, a monitoring plan, criteria for lethal take, a state-operated compensation plan for livestock lost to wolf predation, and how the animals will be classified for management purposes. The plan’s provisions for lethal take, compensation and classification require action by the Oregon Legislature to be implemented.

Nearly 2,000 people submitted public comments on the plan during a three-month public comment period. More than 85 individuals testified before the Commission at the final public comment session, held Thursday in Troutdale.

It is anticipated the state Legislature this year will review needed changes to state statutes to allow implementation of the plan. The Commission agreed to review the wolf management plan after the Legislative session concludes, to implement any changes to the plan that arise from requested statutory action.

Additional information on the Commission’s actions will be made available next week. The information below is taken from the plan’s executive summary:

The 106-page plan and appendices describe measures the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will take to conserve and manage the species. This includes actions that could be taken to protect livestock from wolf depredation and addressing human safety concerns. The following summarizes the primary components of the plan:

  • Wolves that naturally disperse into Oregon will be conserved and managed under the plan. Wolves will not be captured outside of Oregon and released in the state.

  • Wolves may be considered for statewide delisting once the population reaches four breeding pairs for three consecutive years in eastern Oregon. Four breeding pairs is considered the minimum conservation population objective, also described as Phase 1. The plan calls for managing wolves in western Oregon as if the species remains listed until the western Oregon wolf population reaches four breeding pairs. This means, for example, that a landowner would be required to obtain a permit to address depredation problems using injurious harassment.

  • While the wolf remains listed as a state endangered species the following will be allowed:

    • Wolves may be harassed (e.g. shouting, firing a shot in the air) to distract a wolf from a livestock operation or area of human activity.

    • Harassment that causes injury to a wolf (e.g. rubber bullets or bean bag projectiles) may be employed to prevent depredation, but only with a permit.

    • Wolves may be relocated to resolve an immediate localized problem from an area of human activity (e.g. wolf inadvertently caught in trap) to the nearest wilderness area. Relocation will be done by ODFW or Wildlife Services personnel.

    • Livestock producers who witness a wolf ‘in the act’ of attacking livestock on private land may kill the wolf. On public land, such an action would require a permit. Implementation of this component of the plan requires legislative action to amend the wildlife damage statutes.

    • Wolves involved in chronic depredation may be killed by ODFW or Wildlife Services personnel. However, non lethal methods will be emphasized and employed first in appropriate circumstances.

  • Once the wolf is delisted, more options are available to address wolf-livestock conflict. While there are five to seven breeding pairs, wolves caught in the act of killing livestock on public or private land may be killed without a permit. In addition, landowners may kill a wolf involved in chronic depredation with a permit. Five to seven breeding pairs is considered the management population objective or Phase 2.

  • Under Phase 3 (greater than seven breeding pairs), a limited controlled hunt could be allowed to decrease chronic depredation or reduce pressure on wild ungulate populations.

  • The plan calls on the Legislature to amend the wildlife laws to classify the wolf as a “special status mammal” within the definition of game mammal. This designation would provide protection for the wolf under current wildlife laws and would give the Commission management authority following delisting. Any proposed change in legal status requires legislative action.

  • The plan calls for establishing a state-run, wolf-related compensation program for confirmed and probable losses of livestock and working or hunting dogs due to wolf predation. Any compensation package requires legislative action.

  • The plan provides wildlife managers with adaptive management strategies to address wolf predation problems on wild ungulates if confirmed wolf predation leads to declines in localized herds.

  • In the unlikely event that a person is attacked by a wolf, the plan describes the circumstances under which Oregon’s criminal code and federal ESA would allow harassing, harming or killing where necessary to avoid imminent, grave injury. Such an incident must be reported to law enforcement officials.

  • A strong information and education program is proposed to ensure anyone with an interest in wolves is able to learn more about the species and stay informed about wildlife management activities.

  • Several research projects are identified as necessary for future success of long-term wolf conservation and management. Monitoring and radio-collaring wolves is listed as a critical component of the plan both for conservation and communication with Oregonians.

  • An economic analysis provides estimates of costs and benefits associated with wolves in Oregon and wolf conservation and management.

  • Finally, the plan requires annual reporting to the Commission on program implementation.