This State’s Population of Wolves Is Recovering, So Now Ranchers Can Shoot Them

Oregon officials are considering removing protections for the predator that conservationists fear will jeopardize its recovery.

Oregon timber wolves. (Photo: Gerry Ellis)

Feb 3, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Gray wolves returned to Oregon less than a decade ago, but the state is already considering removing endangered species protections for some populations.

The announcement came this week from Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife officials, who reported seven breeding pairs of wolves within the state’s nine known wolf packs—the third year in a row a healthy number of pups have survived.

The numbers automatically trigger the state to move from Phase I to Phase II of its Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. That means ranchers in the eastern third of Oregon have more flexibility in protecting their livestock and are now allowed to shoot wolves chasing their herds.

“Wolves have now met one of the initial milestones envisioned by the public and the commission,” Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator at Oregon Fish & Wildlife, said in a statement. “In the past seven years, Oregon has gone from no known wolves, to resident and reproducing wolves, and now to meeting our conservation objective for the eastern part of the state.”

Six of the seven breeding pairs are in the eastern third of the state—the other pair is a rogue pack led by the famous OR7 wolf in the southern Cascade Mountains.

On top of giving ranchers more leeway in killing wolves, the figures trigger a review of whether the state will keep wolves on the endangered species list at all.

Conservationists are worried that the quick action could stunt the expansion of a species that’s barely made it back in the state—all from natural migration out of neighboring Idaho.

“We’re still a ways away from meaningful, long-term, sustainable recovery,” Rob Klavins, wolf advocate for Oregon Wild, told The Oregonian.

In the past few years, wolves like OR7 have wandered into California and even down as far as the Grand Canyon. Allowing the killing of them by ranchers and harsher management practices could limit the species from naturally expanding into territories it has historically inhabited.

In most of the Lower 48, wolves remain on the endangered species list, except in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes—where they were removed in 2011.

About a third of the 1,600 wolves in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho had been killed by hunters by 2012.

The latest population figures for Oregon’s wolves are due out in March; the department’s 2013 numbers reported 64 wolves in the state.

A decision on whether to delist the wolves entirely in the eastern part of the state could come as early as June.

In the meantime, conservationists are petitioning to get wolves designated as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act nationwide, instead of the piecemeal protections the animals are getting in each state currently.