Do Wolves Still Need Protection?
Yes: Science, state law and logic say it’s too early to end protections in Oregon
By Amaroq Weiss
The gray wolf was driven from Oregon, and much of the West, by a concerted campaign of trapping, poisoning and shooting, with the last wolf here being killed in the 1940s. Since wolves returned to Oregon in 2008, their population has grown to 82 in at least nine breeding packs.
But the wolf’s recovery in Oregon is far from complete.
The few dozen wolves now in Oregon represent only about 5 percent of the number the state can support. They occupy only 12 percent of Oregon’s suitable wolf habitat, according to peer-reviewed research. For no other species would a state accept these paltry numbers as demonstrating recovery.
Yet the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife claims wolves are recovered and should be removed from the state’s list of endangered species. Science, state law and logic suggest it’s way too early to stop protecting Oregon’s wolves. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to vote on a wolf delisting proposal on Monday.
Twelve years ago, when Oregon officials compiled a team of stakeholders to help write a wolf management plan, I was appointed to represent wolf advocacy groups. The plan established two critical points:
1) The expansion of the wolf population to at least four breeding pairs for three consecutive years in Eastern Oregon would prompt a scientific review that may or may not trigger delisting.
2) By law, all delisting decisions must be based on “scientific information reviewed by a scientific peer review panel of outside experts who do not otherwise have a vested interest in the process.”
Since Oregon’s wolf population has reached those thresholds, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission must now conduct the scientific review. And everything we’ve learned about wolves since the plan was formed demonstrates that the science doesn’t support removing protections.
The ongoing need to protect wolves was amplified in recent weeks by the untimely deaths of three healthy adults.
In one incident, a large wolf wearing a radio collar and green ear tags was shot dead by a Grant County hunter who reported that he mistook it for a coyote.
In Wallowa County, investigators were unable to determine a cause of death for a pair of breeding wolves, leaving little hope of survival for the wolves’ pups.
You can only imagine how many of the state’s remaining wolves would die of “accidental” or “uncertain” causes if wolves were to prematurely lose their endangered status.
Moreover, because most of our wolves remain concentrated in Eastern Oregon, there is increased concern that the population is too small to withstand catastrophic disease outbreaks, let alone unchecked poaching.
To abandon wolf recovery now would be to walk away from science and the law and years of successful, ground-breaking conservation work: Even as Oregon’s wolf population has grown, the state’s management strategies focusing on nonlethal deterrence of wolf-livestock conflicts have actually reduced those conflicts, making Oregon a national model.
In a state that’s home to 1.5 million cattle and sheep and a human population now pushing beyond 3.9 million, it’s clear that our 82 wolves continue to need all the help they can get to ensure their survival.
Amaroq Weiss of Petaluma, Calif., is the West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity. A resident of Oregon from 2002-10, she was appointed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to the wolf stakeholder advisory group, representing wolf advocacy organizations.
Copyright 2015 The Register-Guard.
This article originally appeared here.