Settlement: State can kill problem wolves

May 27, 2013 10:50 am

Under certain criteria, temporary rule also allows ranchers, without a permit, to kill wolves that are attacking livestock 

The authority to kill problem wolves was returned to the state when a settlement was reached Thursday between conservationists, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and ranchers regarding a lawsuit filed more than a year and a half ago in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

“We are pleased from an agency standpoint that wolf management has been turned back to us to implement the wolf plan as originally envisioned,” Ron Anglin, wildlife division administrator for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said. “The temporary rule is in place now and would allow us to take lethal action if there is a confirmed depredation and the person did nonlethal work.” 

The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was signed by stakeholders in 2005 as a guide for managing wolves as they dispersed from reintroduced populations in Idaho. In October 2011, conservation groups challenged the state, saying the plan called for killing wolves only as a last resort in wolf/livestock conflicts and claimed not enough non-lethal deterrents had been used first.

The temporary rule allows the state to kill a wolf or wolves involved in chronic depredation, defined as four livestock kills in six months within designated wolf territory, said Brett Brownscombe, Gov. Kitzhaber’s natural resources policy adviser.

“Ranchers have to meet certain basic requirements like bone pile removal and non-lethal action in order to qualify and the settlement provides clearer lines around when a chronic situation
exists,” Brownscombe

Three confirmed livestock losses have been attributed to the Imnaha pack since Jan. 28. If one more animal is killed by the pack in the next couple months, the state is authorized to lethally remove the wolf or wolves involved in the depredations. 

The rule also allows ranchers to kill wolves caught biting, wounding, killing or chasing livestock without a permit during a period of chronic depredation, while wolves are state-listed as endangered and when there is proof that non-lethal deterrents have been used, said Brownscombe.

Increased human presence, removal of carcasses and bone piles, electrified flagging around pastures and radio activated guard boxes are examples of non-lethal deterrents.

Making the temporary rule permanent will require three things, Brownscombe said — the passage of permitless take legislation, the governor’s signature on the bill and the Wildlife Commission’s adoption of the rule.

“This is a hugely divisive issue. It’s one of those issues that is consuming and both sides are very passionate — it’s both symbolic and it’s real,” Brownscombe said.

An April visit from State Sens. Jackie Dingfelder and Bill Hansell and State Rep. Bob Jenson helped clarify the plight of the ranchers, Brownscombe said.

“When they came to Wallowa County what they heard from the producers and the wolf advocates was what they could do through legislation that would be helpful,” Brownscombe said. 

Now a bill in the Oregon House that would put the temporary rule into law has a better chance of bipartisan support before the end of the legislative session, Brownscombe said.

Working together

Brownscombe said the hope is that the conflicting sides will work better together regarding the difficulties around wolf recovery and with less litigation. He said the case being settled out of court benefits everyone.

“Over the course of time things have gotten hotter and hotter,” he said. “For folks to come together and find something to gain through a settlement is greater than the zero-sum game of litigation.”

Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild agreed that the settlement was a better scenario than the court making a winner-take-all decision.

“Nobody thinks this is a perfect agreement; everybody made compromises. It’s been a long 17 months of negotiations, but we took a timeout and sat at the table and listened to each other,” Klavins said. “Both sides are nervous and it requires us to trust each other a little bit

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association filed as interveners for the state and has been involved in settlement talks along with the governor’s office, fish and wildlife and the plaintiffs, Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands. The association’s Wolf Committee Chairman Rod Childers said the cattlemen agreed with the settlement now that the state can take lethal action.

Chasing language

“The thing I look at is it gets the agency back into management. As for the cattlemen, we had to give some things up but through the legislation we get chasing language added,” Childers said. “As far as going to lethal take after four incidents of depredation, it’s the way it’s always been, so we didn’t give up a lot there, that’s what they were doing. Now we have to wait for one more kill by the Imnaha pack, but to get a settlement we chose to agree with that to get it done. We got management back and that’s pretty important to everybody.”

Since wolf packs became established in Oregon in the last six years, the Imnaha pack has become increasingly controversial. The first kill attributed to the pack was in May 2010 on the Zumwalt Prairie, part of its known territory. Since the suit, the state has confirmed that 12 head of cattle have been killed and eight injured by the pack.

The suit and request for a temporary restraining order preventing the state from killing wolves was filed Oct. 5 in the Oregon Court of Appeals. Brownscombe said when an administrative rule is challenged the proper proceedings is to file in the court of appeals. 

In an agreement to grant the injunction, the court required the plaintiff put up a $5,000 bond. As part of the settlement, that money will go to compensate ranchers who have lost livestock
during the course of the

Wolves have made great recovery strides in Oregon with seven known breeding pairs in the northeast region of the state alone. If four breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years the state can take steps to de-list the species, Anglin said.

 “Beginning in 2015 we could do the analysis to move to de-list,” Anglin said.

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