Seeking common ground: Settlement paves way for future of wolf recovery

Eugene Register Guard 
May 30, 2013
It’s often easy to despair that Oregon’s anti-wolf and pro-wolf factions will ever find common ground.
Absolutists on one side view gray wolves as four-legged piranhas that devour cattle and sheep, defy wildlife management plans and should be hunted to extinction, as they were a century ago. Their counterparts on the other side insist that wolves must be protected at all costs because of their contributions to the ecosystem and their historic vulnerability to the unwarranted fear and loathing of no-wolf forces. Fortunately, some people understand that a workable wolf recovery plan will require concessions on both sides.
Last week a group of such pragmatists agreed to a settlement in a lawsuit that for the past year and a half has prohibited the killing of wolves that prey on livestock. The agreement, announced by Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office, creates strict new guidelines that make killing wolves that prey on cattle and sheep a last resort after nonlethal protections have been exhausted and livestock attacks have become chronic. The rules give ranchers greater authority to kill wolves that attack or chase their herds, but only under strictly limited circumstances.
Purists on both sides are certain to be unhappy about this settlement. The no-wolf faction wants nothing less than open season on wolves, failing to understand that most Oregonians want wolf recovery to continue. Some adamantly pro-wolf folks oppose the killing of any wolves, even those known to be chronic killers of livestock. They fail to acknowledge how this puts an untenable burden on ranchers and stokes opposition to wolf recovery in rural areas.
The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed by conservation groups two years ago after the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a kill order for two wolves in the Imnaha Pack, the first pack to form in Oregon from wolves crossing the Snake River from Idaho. The lawsuit claimed that the kill order violated the state Endangered Species Act and could lead to the destruction of the pack.
The Oregon Court of Appeals barred the state from killing wolves until the lawsuit was resolved, making Oregon the only state with wolves where authorities could not kill those that preyed on livestock. In an intriguing development that merits further study, the numbers of wolves increased in Oregon while the court order was in effect, yet the number of livestock killed by wolves decreased. By contrast, extensive hunting in Idaho has decreased the number of wolves in that state but has resulted in an increase in livestock attacks.
This isn’t the first time that a landmark compromise has paved the way for wolf recovery in Oregon. In 2003, the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission appointed a task force made up of ranchers, conservationists, hunters, economists and tribal representatives who forged a visionary but practical strategy that made Oregon the first Western state to independently embrace the return of gray wolves.
That plan, like the wolf population itself, has proven to be a work in progress. Last week’s settlement represents the latest course correction, one that should help reduce conflicts between wolves and ranchers and enhance the prospects for the long-term recovery of the gray wolf in Oregon.