Ranchers, conservationists reach deal on wolves

GRANTS PASS — Conservation groups and cattle ranchers have agreed to a landmark settlement in a lawsuit that, for the past year-and-a-half, has kept the state of Oregon from killing wolves that prey on livestock.

The agreement announced Friday by the governor's office creates a new rulebook for wolf management in Oregon that makes killing the ones that prey on cattle and sheep a last resort after nonlethal protections have been tried and livestock attacks have become chronic. It also gives ranchers greater authority to kill wolves that attack or chase their herds as long as certain conditions are met.

Brett Brownscombe, the governor's natural resources adviser, said the agreement will help bring peace to a longstanding and bitter conflict. "Before, there had always been a lot of rhetoric about, 'We can't tolerate wolves here, and all this nonlethal stuff won't work,' " Brownscombe said. "Now the reality is wolves are here, and we have to be able to protect our property through reasonable means. Nonlethal techniques are going to be part of the expected approach forward. People are going to have assurances that if there are problems, they will have some recourse and things won't be stuck in the courts."

Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the state in October 2011 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, and the one blamed for more livestock kills than any other. The lawsuit claimed the kill order violated the state Endangered Species Act and would doom the pack.

Saying conservation groups were likely to win, 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. During the course of that court order, the numbers of wolves went up in Oregon, while the number of livestock killed went down. In neighboring Idaho, hunting brought down the numbers of wolves, but livestock attacks went up.

The Center for Biological Diversity dropped out of the settlement because it allowed wolves to be killed. "This is going to become the most progressive management plan in the country for avoiding these conflicts before they happen," said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild.

Wallowa County cattle rancher Rod Childers, a longtime hardliner on wolves and chairman of the wolf committee for the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, said the agreement formalizes standards that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife already had been following.

On Tuesday, wolves from the Umatilla River pack killed four sheep on private land near Weston, the East Oregonian newspaper reported Friday.

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