Oregon Wolves Lose Endangered Species Protections

Conservationists question the science behind the state wildlife commission’s removal of protections for the predators.

A 72-pound female wolf of the Minam pack after being radio-collared on June 3, 2014. (Photo: Courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Nov 10, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

According to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, 81 wolves are enough.

Less than a decade since gray wolves first returned to the state, officials on Monday voted 4–2 to remove endangered species protections for the animals.

The contentious decision came during a 10-hour wildlife commission meeting, which saw 106 people testify for and against the delisting plan.

For Oregon’s wolves, the removal of endangered status at the state level shouldn’t have much of an immediate impact, as the state’s Wolf Management Plan only allows ranchers who own livestock killed by wolves to apply for permits to shoot them.

Oregon’s wolves occur in 5,105 square miles of the state. (Photo: Courtesy Oregon Fish and Wildlife)

But conservation groups such as Oregon Wild worry the change in the wolves’ status might encourage illegal hunting.

“We’ve already seen poaching incidents up this year,” said Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild conservation director. “And now the penalties for shooting wolves won’t be as heavy as when they were listed as endangered, so we’re concerned about that.”

RELATED: Two Wolves Found Dead in Oregon Raise Poaching Suspicions

In February, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials revealed the latest gray wolf population figures, finding seven breeding pairs within the state’s nine known wolf packs. That made three years in a row that four or more breeding pairs of wolves were residing in the state. According to the management plan, that triggered a review of whether Oregon needed to keep wolves on the endangered species list.

“The wolf plan has been working well, and you are all responsible for that,” Commissioner Michael Finley told the public during the meeting.

Still, some conservationists said the state’s decision to remove protections was too soon and possibly unlawful.

“There’s simply no science to support the conclusion that 80 wolves is a recovered population,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center for Biological Diversity’s West Coast wolf organizer. “This is a purely political decision made at the behest of livestock and hunting interests. Oregonians expect more from their state government than kowtowing to narrow special interests.”

Historically, gray wolves were widespread across Oregon, but today’s population mainly resides in the eastern third of the state and only occupies around 12 percent of habitat scientists have identified as suitable for wolves.

Conservation groups are considering suing the department over the science it used to recommend the delisting. According to the Wolf Management Plan, the agency’s report is supposed to be peer-reviewed by outside wildlife scientists—something the department didn’t do until after the Oct. 30 deadline.

“They ended up selecting a few scientists at the very last hour to drop in footnotes on their report—and that’s not what ‘peer-reviewed’ means,” Pedery said. “It was just them trying to cover their bases and avoid a lawsuit.”