SALEM – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today began an environmental review of Oregon’s request for a gray wolf recovery permit as part of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan adopted in December 2005.
Oregon officials are requesting this permit because some of the actions the state may take in the future under the plan could harm or kill problem wolves involved in chronic livestock depredation. Without the permit, lethal control by state officials would be a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
Under the permit, known as a 10(a)(1)(A) permit, wildlife officials would first employ non-lethal methods to reduce or resolve wolf-livestock conflicts, as they currently do under a section 6 cooperative agreement with USFWS. If those methods were not successful, the recovery permit would allow the lethal control of wolves by state and federal wildlife agents. No lethal measures by private landowners would be authorized under the new permit.
Although gray wolves are not confirmed to be currently present in Oregon, biologists expect wolves to disperse naturally into Oregon from Idaho, where they are established.
Investigating wolf reports
State and federal wildlife officials also continue to investigate wolf reports, including a current ongoing investigation of a report made from northeast Oregon.
Such reports are not unusual and no recent reports have been verified as actual wild wolves; often the reports turn out to be coyotes, feral dogs or domestic wolf hybrids. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives 80 to 90 wolf reports per year in Oregon. Three intensive field investigations of wolf reports have been conducted by state and federal wildlife officials in Oregon in the Hells Canyon, Imnaha River and Tipton areas since April. To date, the presence of wild wolves in Oregon has not been confirmed.
The current investigation stems from a northeast Oregon report made by a member of the public in late July. Since the initial report, wildlife officials have conducted an intensive field investigation looking for additional signs such as tracks and scat. Howling surveys have also been conducted and wolf experts from neighboring states have lent their support to the investigation. Despite these efforts, no additional information to confirm the presence or absence of a wolf in the area has been found.
About gray wolves
Although gray wolves are native to Oregon, the species has been extirpated from Oregon for more than 50 years. Gray wolves are currently listed as endangered under both the federal and state endangered species act.
Gray wolves have been successfully reintroduced in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, and the fall 2005 population in Idaho alone was estimated to be 630 wolves. However, state and federal wildlife officials will not reintroduce wolves into Oregon. Wildlife biologists expect wolves to naturally disperse from Idaho and become established in Oregon.
A total of three wolves are confirmed to have entered Oregon since 1999. One radio-collared gray wolf was returned to Idaho, another collared wolf was struck by a vehicle on Interstate 84 south of Baker City and the third, an uncollared wolf, was found shot between Ukiah and Pendleton.
About Oregon’s Wolf Plan
To facilitate growing interest and concerns regarding wolves in Oregon, a Wolf Information Group was formed in January 2000 consisting of representatives from federal and state agencies, the livestock industry, predator conservation groups, and other stakeholders. Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission later held a series of public meetings and education workshops before adopting a wolf planning process in April 2003.
The final Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was adopted by the Commission on Dec. 1, 2005 with the goal of “ensuring the long-term survival and conservation of gray wolves as required by Oregon law while minimizing conflicts with humans, primary land uses and other Oregon wildlife.” The plan provides guidelines for responses to situations that may arise as gray wolves migrate into Oregon from adjacent states and outlines specific criteria that must be met to delist wolves from the state ESA.
Several components of the plan required legislative approval but were not passed in the 2005 Oregon legislative session. ODFW continues to work with livestock owners, wolf conservationists, the Oregon Legislature and other groups to obtain the needed law changes that would provide livestock producers with flexibility to protect their animals from wolves.
To that end, the Oregon Department of Administrative Services is currently reviewing new proposed legislation ODFW plans to submit to the 2007 Oregon State Legislature that will:
• Designate the wolf as a ‘special status mammal’ under the game mammal statute,
• If and when wolves are delisted from the federal ESA, allow livestock owners without a permit to lethally take wolves caught ‘in the act’ of killing livestock, and
• Create a state-funded program to pay compensation for wolf-caused livestock losses and for proactive methods to prevent wolf depredation.