The decision by Oregon wildlife officials to remove gray wolves from the state’s Endangered Species Act list Monday is being called premature and outrageous by opponents.
After the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 to delist wolves — effectively stripping them of state protection — U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, released a statement saying that the resurgent gray wolf population in Oregon needs to be protected.
“The decision by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to remove gray wolves from the Oregon endangered species list is outrageous,” DeFazio said. “With only 81 known wolves in the state, the gray wolf needs protection now more than ever.”
The commissioners cited a recommendation from state biologists that said the species is not in danger of extinction in Oregon. The decision means wolves in the eastern third of Oregon are not covered by either state or federal protections, though the federal protections will still cover wolves in Oregon west of highways 395, 78 and 95.
“I’m urging the governor and the Legislature to act and correct this wrongheaded decision, before it is too late for the gray wolf,” DeFazio said.
Some of the supporters of the decision have come from the livestock industry, contending that gray wolves are harmful to cattle, sheep and the like.
“We’re looking at it like ‘this is how other places have suffered from (gray wolves), and we’re anticipating a similar impact,’ ” said Walt Gayner, president of the Douglas County Livestock Association.
Though the gray wolves won’t be protected in Eastern Oregon, it won’t be open season on them, either. As reported by the Capital Press, an agricultural newspaper, the state’s wolf plan would remain in effect, allowing for ODFW-approved killings in cases of repeated livestock attacks or a decline in prey populations, such as elk and deer. Sport hunting would not be allowed, although ODFW could make that a possibility in the future if the wolf population numbers continue to increase.
Ranchers would be allowed to shoot wolves if they are caught attacking livestock or herd dogs, though a gray wolf has yet to be killed for that reason.
Gray wolves made headlines across the country when a single 2-year-old wolf, named OR-7 by state biologists, trekked from Eastern Oregon over the Cascades and into Western Oregon, the first such trip by a wolf since 1947. OR-7 eventually found a mate that had also come from an Eastern Oregon pack, and the pair have successfully mated twice, producing five pups. The pack's territory is in the Cascade Mountains of southeastern Jackson County. Two other gray wolves have also have also been confirmed in Southern Oregon.
In a letter written to commissioners last week, DeFazio urged them to uphold protections of the wolves and said a decision otherwise would undo the recent success of reintroducing wolves.
“I’m proud of the work that Oregon has done to get to this point,” said DeFazio, whose Fourth Congressional District stretches from Linn County south to the California border and includes most of Josephine County outside of Grants Pass. “Despite the success we have had in Oregon, wolf recovery is still at a very fragile, early stage in recovery.”
The Humane Society of the United States also released a statement Tuesday, joining DeFazio in condemning the decision. The director of the group’s Oregon chapter, Scott Beckstead, said actions delisting the gray wolves “fly in the face of ethical conversation, ignore the best available science and are out of touch with modern society.”
The decision to strip wolves of legal protection was set in motion in January, when populations of gray wolves in Eastern Oregon included four breeding pairs for three consecutive years.