TAKING ANOTHER LOOK AT WOLVES IN OREGON
Some folks want to shoot them on site, while others will wait years for an opportunity to hear them howl at the moon. Both camps have studied wolves closely.
But how well do the many Oregonians who may fit somewhere in between the hate and love of the wolf really know them?
A new wrinkle in the battle over wolves in Oregon appeared last month Â— just days before the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission had intended to take action on amending the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
What was more interesting, and less predictable, than the call from cattlemen to delay their action, was the underlying reason behind it and the scurry of activity their request has caused at state levels.
The request has temporarily delayed the commission's proposed action to move three key elements written into the plan Â— adopted in February 2005 Â— which required legislative action to make them legal and viable: to change wolf status in Oregon to a special status animal under the same statutes as game mammals, to create a state-funded compensation program for livestock losses proven as caused by wolves, and to allow livestock owners to take a wolf without a special permit Â— but only when that wolf is caught in the act of killing livestock.
Last session, the Legislature took no definitive action on any of these issues.
So, at the commission's Nov. 4 meeting in St. Helens the seven members planned to accept oral testimony on their proposal to remove the nonviable elements from the plan and place them in a special appendix where they would sit in apparent limbo.
The challenge for cattlemen in giving oral testimony on the proposal in St. Helens Nov. 4 was twofold.
Within the state's livestock industry, the first week of November is usually synonymous with the Oregon Cattlemen's Association annual state convention. It was held Nov. 3 through Nov. 5 this year in Bend.
"Well, it is pretty hard to be in two places at once," reasoned Wallowa County rancher Mack Birkmaier.
As co-chairs of the OCA's Wolf Task Force, Birkmaier and Union County rancher Sharon Beck requested a minimum 60-day extension of the public comment period on the proposed revision in a letter to ODFW Director Lindsay Ball.
At issue, in their letter, was the second, deeper fold of the wrinkle which is causing more headaches for livestock owners.
In just the past few weeks, reports from other states with recovered wolf populations have been surfacing that wolves are possible vectors of a parasitic disease known as Neospora caninum, or Neosporosis.
Neosporosis causes abortions in beef and dairy cattle. The unknown impacts of such a disease spreading from wolves introduced into Oregon's ecosystem is driving the cattle industry's request for more time to study neosporosis, particularly the wolves role in spreading the disease.
Last week, it seemed everyone in the OCA, the ODFW and the Oregon Department of Agriculture were aware of the concern over neosporosis, though little factual information was yet known.
As far as ODA State Veterinarian Don Hansen can
tell, the disease was first diagnosed in the United States in the late 1980s in dogs. And it had a devastating impact on the dairy cattle industry in California.
Oregon's cattlemen are concerned about their own livelihoods and the potential economic impact on Oregon's half-million dollar cattle and calf industry Â— the second largest commodity in the state's more than $4 billion dollar agriculture industry.
And by removing the only elements in the wolf plan that provide all livestock owners with any economic or self-protective resources against wolf-caused losses, it leaves cattle ranchers particularly vulnerable.
"We just want the ODFW to take a look at the issue Â— to take this seriously. Maybe we need to put everything on hold while we look at this," suggests Beck.
But ODFW's Wildlife Division Administrator Ron Anglin says at this time all processes relating to the wolf plan are moving forward as scheduled.
"I have heard nothing from the state vet that there is an issue," he said.
When asked when state officials first become aware of the potential danger of neosporosis in Oregon, Anglin explained, "Everything we have Â— documents from (US) Fish and Wildlife's EA's (environmental assessments) for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming Â— suggests the work had been done."
But when asked if the documents he was referring to Â— environmental impact statements done by the federal agency in the 1990s Â— and cited in the plan particularly addressed Neospora caninum, Anglin did not know.
Diseases and parasites of the gray wolf that were known in the 1990s include rabies, canine distemper, canine parvovirus, infectious canine hepatitis, oral papillomatosis, heart worm, hookworms, liver flukes, tapeworms, mange, lice, other ectoparasites such as fleas, ticks and deer fly; Lyme disease, leptospirosis, brucellosis and blastomycosis. Were all these assessed in the environmental impact statements?
"I can't say. I don't have the documents in front of me to look at, but it is my understanding the Fish and Wildlife thought they put all disease issues to rest," he said, reiterating that, at this point, it is up to the ODA's state veterinarian to investigate the neosporosis issue.
"Well, to be fair I think there is a legitimate cause for concern, and it's my job to look into it. The safety of the industry is my top priority, but I'm just getting started Â— this has just come up in the last couple of weeks," Hansen says.
Hansen admitted there are more questions than answers. What he knows is the disease has also been diagnosed in deer, foxes and coyotes and is most likely spread through fecal contamination of feed or water sources, or from eating the raw meat of an infected animal as well as passing it from an infected mother to off
spring not aborted.
"But we don't even know if the
disease is here yet. And who's infecting who? Does it have an impact on humans? I don't know," he says. Hansen says he has read two conflicting papers on neosporosis in humans and unexplained abortions in women, but the results are inconclusive.
"There are so many questions that need to be answered before we can even assess the risks. If there are studies on risk assessment out there that I'm not aware of yet, I would really like to see that information," he says.
James Beers, a US Fish and Wildlife biologist and refuge manager for more than 30 years, now retired, says there is a wealth of documentation on risk assessment on wolves and their diseases available from European countries, like Poland and Russia, where wolves have coexisted with humans and livestock for centuries.
For example, Beers has talked extensively with Russian linguist Will Graves who has translated more than 100 years of Russian science on wolves. His book on that research is nearing publication in the U.S., Beers says.
"There is also a doctor of veterinary medicine in Poland," says Beers, "whose studies have shown neosporosis in Wisent buffalo (a smaller European breed of bison) came from wolves. But it's academic Â— who gave it to who Â— it is here and it now exists in both."
Beers says his frustration stems from not being heard by officials when he suggests there could be serious consequences for disease spread and contamination by a wolf, whose tendencies to wander over larger areas than a domesticated dog or even a coyote, are well known.
It would be nothing for a wolf, Beers says, to pick up a disease at one end of the valley and then carry that disease up to five miles
in one direction and 10 in another before the day is out.
"Last year, I asked both state vets (from the ODA and Fish and Wildlife) about the potential for wolves to spread BSE (mad cow disease.) Â‘That's not a problem,' they told me. So I asked them if they'd looked into it and they said, Â‘No, but we don't need to.' They (Fish and Wildlife) don't want to hear anything negative about wolves," Beers said.
Which is the same opinion of Birkmaier.
"This whole thing is like a rock rolling down hill. (Fish and Wildlife) brush aside anything we bring up. We go to these meetings and testify and they never debate or respond," he says. "I hate to say it's futile, and we've done the best we could Â— but it doesn't seem to make a damn bit of difference."
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of all Oregonians to carefully consider any wildlife management plan and its far reaching effects and to voice their opinions to their government agencies.
For information on the Oregon Wolf Conservation Plan, go to the ODFW Web site, http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wolves/
To comment on the proposed revisions, written comments will be accepted through Nov. 30 on the proposed revisions only, by
or by fax to 1-503-657-2050
or by mail to ODFW NW Region, 17330 S.E. Evelyn St., Clackamas, OR 97015.
Verbal testimony may be given at the Dec. 1 commission meeting at ODFW headquarters in Salem.
For more information on the diversity in perspectives on living with wolves, explore the following Web sites: The Abundant Wildlife Society of North America, www.aws.vcn.com/fact and The Rewilding Institute at http://rewilding.org/vision.