The Oregonian, July 11, 2010
Suit to get Kern Water Bank returned to state
By The Oregonian Editorial Board
Throughout Western history, it has always been easier to shoot wolves than to live with them. Now, just as the first small packs of gray wolves are getting a toehold in Oregon, it is vital that this state not go back to the old way, the easy way, every time there is a conflict with wolves.
There's just such a conflict now. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife responded to several documented cases of wolf depredation on Wallowa County livestock by ordering the killing of two suspected wolves in early June. Conservation groups filed a federal suit in Portland challenging the kill permits, and a judge blocked the shooting of the wolves at least until July 31.
We understand that Oregon cattle and sheep ranchers operate on terribly thin margins and face a long list of threats to their stock, including harsh weather, disease, coyotes, mountain lions and domestic dogs. It's too much to expect them to welcome another predator. Furthermore, it isn't fair that a small number of ranchers must shoulder virtually all of the costs, all of the burden, of returning wolves to Oregon's wild country.
We are not against killing wolves that develop a taste for cattle, sheep and other livestock. Two such wolves, identified by their radio collars, were tracked down and killed not long ago, reducing Oregon's wolf population from 16 to 14. Those killings were justified.
Moreover, we strongly believe that Oregon ought to have a tax-supported compensation fund so that all the Oregonians -- more than 70 percent by one poll -- who support the recovery of wolves in this state do their own small part to pay for the costs of bringing them back.
But in the current case, Oregon seems too quick on the trigger and too willing to sidestep the sensible rules in its own recovery plan for gray wolves. Those rules generally require wildlife officials to document several wolf incidents on one or more adjacent ranches and clearly identify the targeted animals before issuing kill permits. That wasn't done in this case; about all that's known of the suspected wolves is that both are gray in color and neither one is wearing a radio collar. There are, of course, a lot of wolves that meet that description.
While Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have spent years grappling with wolf issues, this is still relatively new territory for Oregon. Our state had the advantage of watching wolves re-establish themselves and saw how they have affected elk and deer herds and domestic livestock. Ranchers have learned in most cases to live with wolves and take common-sense precautions, such as burying animals that die of disease and other causes to avoid inadvertently baiting wolves onto their lands. Problem wolves have been killed by wildlife authorities. Ranchers elsewhere generally have been compensated for losses.
After the first gray wolves swam the Snake River into Oregon beginning in 1999, a panel of ranchers, wildlife experts, hunters, Native Americans and others wrote a plan for how Oregon would respond to the arrival of wolves. It's not a perfect plan -- as we noted, it lacks a compensation fund for ranchers -- but it's a reasonably good one. And wherever and whenever one of Oregon's precious few wolves creates a problem, Oregon wildlife officials should adhere to that plan, rather than take the old way, the easy way, out.
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