PORTLAND — Oregon wildlife officials voted in Salem Monday to remove the gray wolf from the state's Endangered Species Act list.
The state's Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 to delist the wolves after a meeting lasting nearly 10 hours. Commissioners Greg Wolley and Laura Anderson voted against delisting.
The state's wolf plan calls for initiating a process to consider stripping wolves of legal protections when eastern Oregon hits a population of four breeding pairs for three consecutive years. That goal was met in January.
Anderson and other commissioners said they supported removing the protections for that part of the state. Current law doesn't allow for that type of partial delisting.
Eighty-one wolves now live in Oregon.
State biologists recommended the delisting last week, saying the species is not in danger of extinction in Oregon.
At least two national groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, criticized the Monday decision, calling it premature and saying a better alternative would have been to change their status from endangered to threatened.
Officials with The Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release they plan to challenge the decision in court.
Delisting the animal won't lead to immediate management changes. The state wolf plan continues to provide protection of wolves, tightly regulating when a wolf can be killed.
Commissioners also supported increasing penalties for unlawfully killing a wolf. The current maximum penalty is a $6,250 fine and a year in jail.
Although nothing changes immediately, more lethal measures could be allowed to manage wolves in the future. An upcoming wolf plan review could also lead to changes in protections.
The Commission's action has no effect on wolves west of highways 97, 20 and 395, which are still protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Wolves in eastern Oregon were taken off the federal list four years ago after Congress used a budget ride attached to a spending bill which also removed the animal from the endangered list in the northern Rockies, eastern Washington and parts of Utah.