Eight members of the Wolf Plan Stakeholder work group met last week in The Dalles with ODFW staff to discuss methods of controlling the growing population.
Meeting at The Dalles Screen Shop on Klindt Drive, the full-day Aug. 28 meeting organized by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife focused on killing and tracking wolves, two topics identified as being of greatest interest to the majority of the group.
The discussion revolved around potential changes to the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
“You have all been in the trenches together for a long time,” said Deb Nudelman, who moderated the discussion. “I will do my best to be kind and respectful as we seek to resolve differences and find common ground. I think of conflict as an opportunity.”
The plan, and how it has been implemented, has been controversial since it was put in place in 2005. Wolf populations in northeast Oregon are now in Phase 2, with well established packs.
Phase 2 allows for greater management of wolf populations, including controlled take, or killing, of problem animals.
In Wasco County, ODFW confirmed last week that a recently documented pair of wolves on the Warm Springs Reservation had at least two pups this year, the first in the northern Oregon Cascades since wolves were exterminated statewide nearly 70 years ago.
Nudelman noted that the committee needs to work toward consensus, not a majority vote. “All are equally powerful, to accept or to block concensus.”
Shannon Hurn, state deputy director of fish and wildlife programs, explained that the goal of the meeting was to come up with a list of things all committee members agreed upon.
“As each committee spoke of their hopes and goals for the process, Amira Streeter, representing the governor’s office said that, while some of the topics were polarizing, there was still room for collaboration.
“We all want to ensure fewer dead wolves, fewer dead livestock, less conflict,” she said.
Framing the debate
The meeting began with each member of the committee articulating their goals and expectations for the meeting.
Quinn Read, representing Defenders of Wildlife, said she wanted to see non-lethal intervention tools and techniques given priority, and hoped for input from the ODFW staff present. She is currently working as the Northwest representative for her group, and is doing a lot of work with wolves in Washington.
“In Washington, everything is really contentious right now. I was glad to come back to Oregon, we aren’t there yet. I want to be as open minded as I possibly can be.”
Jim Akenson, of the Oregon Hunters Association, said, “I’ve been working with carnivores and conflict for many years. I think wolves are a cool and impressive animal, and I know they require management.” His association felt strongly that hunting can be an important management tool, and that a few trained hunters could help ranchers deal with problem wolves.
Todd Nash, a rancher who chairs the Wolf Committee for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said he hoped for greater understanding of how livestock producers are affected by wolves, and the plan designed to manage them.
“It’s been very difficult to see wolves come into our area,” said Nash, who operates a ranch in northeast Oregon, one of the first regions impacted by the introduction of wolves into the state.
“Our reality is that some of the non-lethal methods (of stopping predation by wolves) are not effective. We need to get to a real solution. Every wolf in Oregon comes into contact with domestic animals, that is just a reality.”
Mary Ann Cooper, representing the Oregon Farm Bureau, said she was hoping the group could focus on adjustments to the current plan, not a re-write, with a focus on “what’s possible, and what can actually be done.”
“We don’t want to change the fundamentals,” she explained. “We need a plan that offers management in light of increasing populations.”
Dave Riley, representing the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said the current plan has been effective. “We have gone now from conservation to management,” he said.
He said the foundation had some concern regarding proposed revisions. “We would support a plan with science-based management, in today’s environment,” he said.
Rob Klavis, representing Oregon Wild, said his group had a similar mission to ODFW. “There are a lot of benefits to wolves, tangible benefits to wildlife, economic benefits, and intangible benefits as well.” As a resident of northeast Oregon, he runs a bed and breakfast in wolf country.
“We have people coming to see wolves, to see wildlife,” he said. But he has also seen calves injured by wolves and wolves that have been killed.
“I’ve lived all this,” he said. He said his group wanted non-lethal methods used to reduce predation, the removal of information in the plan that is not science based and a fair compensation program for cattlemen who lose stock to wolf predation.
“I think we are a long way from consensus,” he added. “Hopefully, we can learn from experience.”
Amaroq Weiss, representing Center for Biological Diversity, said she has worked 21 years in wolf recovery, and was involved with negotiations on the first Wolf Plan in 2005. “Nobody got everything they wanted, they all got something they needed,” she said. “I would like to see management informed by the best available science,” she said. “I would like to see non-lethal measures being not just a check box, prior to lethal removal, but based on what would be truly effective.
“Killing has its risks, and can increase predation,” she said.
Nick Cady, representing Cascadia Wildlands, said he would like to come up with a substantiative plan. “Compromise has been reached. We oppose wolves being killed with public dollars at the request of a private entity,” he said.
Speaking for ODFW in his role as Wildlife Division deputy administrator, Kevin Blakely said he wants to move the plan forward. “I want to incorporate what we’ve learned on the land, adapt and prepare for changes. Success would be to continue to engage with all the stakeholders. There are significant things we can celebrate in wolf recovery, we are not in a holding pattern.”
Derek Broman, ODFW Wildlife Division carnivore coordinator, noted that many of those at the table had contributed directly to the text of the plan, and he valued their input. He added, however, that “sometimes the science isn’t black-and-white, and that’s when it can get messy and complicated.”
Lethal & non-lethal wolf control
After brainstorming issues, and registering the interest in each issue among the group, things did indeed get “messy and complicated” as the group discussed the wolf’s status as a “special game animal,” potentially subject to regulated hunting to preserve ungulate (deer, elk and related species) populations, and “controlled take,” the killing of wolves in response to “chronic depredation” of livestock.
“Why are you so stuck on this topic?” Nudelman asked the group in opening the discussion, first on hunting and then on “controlled take,” or the killing of problem wolves to control predation.
“The difference is very fundamental,” suggested Akenson, Oregon Hunters Association. “It’s killing wolves. For hunters, it is harvest. For others not in the cultural mindset, it’s viewed as killing, as removing an individual.”
“It’s the most emotional issue,” added Cooper, Oregon Farm Bureau. “For us, dealing with livestock loss, killing or controlled take is the most economic method, the removal of problem animals.”
“We believe management requires regulating the number of animals,” agreed Wiley, Rocky Mountain Elk Association.
“Killing is controversial,” said Klavin, Oregon Wild. “There are some real cultural divides. The science says killing wolves can make (predation) worse.”
“Wildlife is part of the public trust, and private entities want to kill them,” he added. “They matter as individuals to some people.”
Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, said surveys showed Oregonians don’t support killing wolves.
“Hunting is not for subsistence, not for food or clothing. For some, it’s abhorrent for a wolf to be wasted, or be a head or a rug. In the wolf social structure, it becomes difficult as well. Hunting doesn’t target individuals, and it disrupts the social structure. Hunting is indiscriminate.
“We’re talking about killing an individual. Whether it’s an animal or a person, it’s killing. Wolves lives matter. It’s all doused with controversy.”
Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, added that “wolf populations self regulate,” and hunting as a population control was unnecessary.
Blakely, ODFW, noted that predation “has become an issue we have to address. We have more wolves, creating more conflict.
“We have population growth and dispersion. We are at that point now.” He drew parallels with Oregon’s cougar population.
“At one time, we had only an estimated 400 or 500 animals in the state. Now we have a robust population.” That increase has led to more conflict between cougars and people, and more cougars being killed following that conflict.
Read, Defenders of Wildlife, noted that killing wolves was a really emotional issue, and noted that she feared killing problem animals would open the door to more hunting.
Nash, Oregon Cattleman’s Association, said “as a rancher, I never wanted to hunt wolves. I understand not wanting to hunt wolves.
“We got put in this predicament, defending our livestock. Prior to wolves, we had no depredation, no chasing, no wolf wary cows.
“It’s been a dramatic change for us as livestock managers. There isn’t a class of livestock that is safe out there anymore.
“But we are ranchers, not snipers. We aren’t hunters. Chronic depredation, we need to address that.”
Nash suggested that having certified, trained hunters addressing specific wolf packs in specific areas would help free livestock managers from wolf management so they could concentrate on raising healthy livestock.
“We do everything we can to keep our livestock alive and healthy.”
After several hours of discussion, no consensus was reached on the issue of lethal versus nonlethal wolf control, and a second topic, collaring, was discussed in the afternoon.
Collaring wolves has two purposes, ODFW biologists noted: To monitor wolf populations and how they are using the land, and tracking what wolves are killing livestock.
Two types of collars are currently in use, radio collars that identify general location through triangulation of the collar signal, and GPS collars that give precise location information of the wolf’s whereabouts.
For cattlemen, collaring is critical, said Nash (Cattleman’s Association). “If we are going to do non-lethal, we need collaring to be successful,” he explained.
Collaring can show which wolf pack is responsible in the event of a confirmed kill, and where the pack is hunting to allow range riders to intervene.
“Without that collar, it’s very difficult for a range riders to have any impact at all. If we are conscripted to do non-lethal, we need collaring,” he said. He added that in the event of depredation of livestock, collar information can confirm what wolf pack was responsible.
“We don’t want to take out wolves that are not responsible for depredation. We need to make kill/no kill decisions on the fly.”
He added that ranchers never went to lethal measures under Phase 1, during which wolf populations were first being established. “Phase 1 was a disaster for us,” he added. “We don’t challenge that now, but we don’t want to go back there.”
With more wolves established in the region, collaring information is now critical to protecting livestock , Nash said.
“There are some packs that prey on domestic livestock, there are some that prey on wildlife. If we eliminate them (those that prey on domestics) we are making progress. We need to look at individual packs.”
Weiss (Center for Biological Diversity) responded that collars were funded to provide information for non-lethal control, and should not be used to locate wolves to kill them.
Klavins (Oregon Wild) added that range riders are using collar information to chase wolves out of livestock areas, rather than having range riders guarding the livestock in close proximity to the herds.
He agreed, however, to “stand down” on the issue, but added that “we need to keep collar data private. Don’t be asking for data.”
Hurn (ODFW) asked what the standard of use should be.
“You say they are just chasing the wolves around,” she said, and asked how the collar information should be used to help ranchers protect their stock.
Weiss responded that non-lethal should not be a ‘check box’ claimed by the rancher, but the result of measures selectively determined to be most effective for a specific situation.
“That is why your hearing it’s not enough (non-lethal controls), it’s that it’s not the right tool for the situation,” she said.
She noted that more range riders, or moving livestock off rangelands and feeding hay, would reduce stock depredation without lethal control measures.
Nash responded that livestock managers were not in the business of running feed lots, and there were benefits to having cattle on the range.
As the meeting concluded, consensus was limited, with suggestions to curtail collaring withdrawn in lieu of continuing under the current rules.
When asked if another meeting of the committee would be of value, response was mixed on both sides of the debate, but eventually an additional meeting was scheduled for late September in Redmond.
Following the committee’s work, public comment was taken.
Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett noted that his county was heavily reliant on the cattle industry, with as much as 90 percent of the county’s economic strength coming from cattle.
Yet the county had little say in the matter of wolf management, he said.
“This directly impacts us, our customs, culture and communities,” he said. “I recognize that three counties in Oregon could take this to a vote, and we might as well stay home in Baker County. But social and economic stability should be considered,” he said.
The impact of increasing wolf populations is tremendous, and the counties need to be brought in to the discussion.
“Otherwise our counties will have an adversarial position,” he said.