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Oregon wolves removed from state endangered species list

by Kelly House | The Oregonian/OregonLive November 9, 2015

followed by

Wolf depredation: No lethal action planned for calf attacks. Wolf OR-25 believed to be perpetrator

A male yearling from the Imnaha Pack was one of eight Oregon gray wolves collared in 2013 by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The agency uses signals from wolves' collars to track their dispersal throughout the state. (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife photo)

The gray wolf has lost its place on the Oregon endangered species list.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Monday voted to remove the animal from the list in a move that changes little about current wolf management but opens up the possibility for a controlled wolf hunt in the future.

In a 4-2 vote following a marathon daylong meeting, commissioners signaled agreement with a staff recommendation to remove endangered species act protections for all of Oregon's 81 known gray wolves.

Several commissioners said they would have preferred to remove the animals from the list only in Eastern Oregon, where most of them reside. However, state statute only makes room for statewide endangered species decisions.

Commissioners directed Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff to work with lawmakers to consider a bill to change that statute. They also directed staff to work on a proposal to increase the legal penalty for killing a wolf.

Currently, the maximum penalty for doing so is up to a year in jail and a $6,250 fine.

"Everyone on this panel cares about the wolf," commission Chairman Michael Finley said of Monday's decision. "I think you can see by asking for increased penalties and our statement about the future regulations that we mean that."

Activists said they are likely to sue over the decision on the grounds that the science behind it didn't undergo an adequate peer review.

The animals reached a population milestone this year -- four breeding pairs for the third straight year -- that triggered a state process to consider removing them from the list.

That process has reignited heated debate about the predators' role in Oregon's ecosystem and economy, pitting conservationists who laud the wolves' crucial role in the ecosystem against ranchers and hunters who argue wolves put too much pressure on livestock and game animals.

State biologists recommended statewide delisting, citing science indicating wolves will continue to grow more numerous and broaden their territory, regardless of whether they stay on the list.

Either way, the animals will remain protected under the Oregon wolf plan, which bans killing wolves except in self defense and in very limited circumstances to defend pets and livestock.

Wolves in western Oregon also are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

State wolf coordinator Russ Morgan characterized wolves' continued expansion in Oregon as a "success story," signaling they are no longer in danger of being eradicated from the state.

Emotions ran high as dozens of wolf advocates and foes lined up to plead their case before the commission. A standing room only crowd of about 200 packed the room.

The lines of allegiance were clearly drawn. On the right side of the room sat wolf advocates, most from western Oregon with several wearing orange T-shirts bearing a wolf's image. Hunting advocates and Eastern Oregon ranchers in cowboy hats sat on the left.

"This is an emotional decision for most, if not all, of you on one side of the issue or another," Finley told audience members. "We are aware of it. We ourselves are subject to similar emotions, but our job is to be objective."

Audience testimony ranged from tearful pleas for continued protections to ominous predictions that continued wolf expansion could result in human fatalities.

Ranchers, hunters and Eastern Oregon politicians urged the state to remove the wolf from the list, arguing keeping it listed would undermine the state management plan and breed resentment from landowners who have waited years for greater latitude to use lethal force to protect their livestock.

Failing to do so could "break the faith with the farmers and ranchers," said Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena.

The plan does not require wolves' removal from the list at any point in time, but it assumes they will no longer be listed once wolves move into a third phase of management.

Conservationists, arguing Monday's decision was premature, noted that plan is up for a mandatory 10-year review that could produce significant changes to the state's management policies.

"Implementers of the plan are subject to the whims of political, economic and social pressures," said Amoroq Weiss, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Advocates also raised concerns about the scientific basis for the state biologists' recommendation and accused the department officials of catering to a "vocal minority" in the hunting and ranching community.

Weiss said conservationists' issues with the science are likely to result in a lawsuit.

State law requires a panel of independent scientists to review any decision to delist an endangered species. The state solicited "courtesy reviews" from four outside scientists after conservationists warned them that failing to obtain a review could be illegal.

Weiss argued the reviews were done too hastily to hold weight and also criticized the department for picking its own reviewers.

Ranchers, on the other hand, accused conservationists of turning their back on a management protocol they agreed to follow before wolves crossed into Oregon from Idaho in 2008.

"You have an obligation to make sure that deal is honored," rancher Cheryl Martin told the commission.
-- Kelly House
503-221-8178 @Kelly_M_House



Wolf depredation: No lethal action planned for calf attacks. Wolf OR-25 believed to be perpetrator

by Lacey Jarrell, Herald and News 11/10/15


Kill compensation

The state offers a tax credit for the market value of livestock killed by a wolf. To receive the credit, landowners must first get a confirmed kill certification from the ODFW.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s wolf compensation program awarded $150,830 to eight counties in 2014.

Officials are taking only non-lethal action against OR-25, the wolf believed to have killed one calf and injured two others at a ranch north of Klamath Falls.

The depredations occurred near the upper Williamson River on private land, according to a news release. The three attacked calves were being held in a 100-acre pasture with several other 6-month-old, 300- to 350-pound weaner calves.

Wildlife officials believe the Oregon wolf designated “OR-25” killed and injured the animals because his GPS radio collar placed him at or near the calf carcass five times between Wednesday, Oct. 28, and Monday, Nov. 2.

Tom Collom, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) district biologist who investigated the depredation, said skeleton and hide was all that remained of the killed calf.

“The carcass had been well fed on, partially by OR-25 and possibly other scavengers — coyotes, birds and everything else,” Collom said.

Collom said based on the “freshness of what flesh was left on the ribs and legs,” the carcass was probably less than week old.

Both injured calves have major trauma on their left rear legs. Collom said the tissue was torn about 9 inches down the leg and about 3 or 4 inches wide.

He said chunks of tendon and muscle tissue were missing. Infection became an issue, too, but both calves have a decent chance of surviving, according to Collom.

Roaming the region

OR-25 is a 2.5-year-old male that made his first appearance in Klamath County in May, after disbursing from northeast Oregon’s Imnaha Pack in March 2015. During his dispersal, OR-25 traveled through the Columbia Basin, the Southern Blue Mountains, and Northern and Central Cascade Mountains.

Collom said according to OR-25’s GPS collar, the wolf has ranged a fairly wide area, from the east side of Yamsi Ranch, north to the Klamath Marsh and down as far south as the Sycan River.

A new ODFW area of known wolf activity designating OR-25’s range was published in August.

John Stephenson, a wolf coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said after the depredation, a handful of non-lethal deterrents were installed around the cattle pasture.

One ragbox (radio activated guard box) with a noisemaker and strobe light was installed. Stephenson explained that when a wolf with a GPS collar is within range of the box, it triggers noise and light mechanisms meant to startle the animal.

“It can be a pretty effective deterrent to scare the bejeebers out of them,” Stephenson said.

Two strobes that flash intermittently throughout the night were also installed.

Stephenson said if these tools fail, officials may try fladry fencing, which drapes strips of fabric or colored flags over wire fence. He noted that these are the same deterrents used to protect against wolf depredation in northeastern Oregon.

“I’m hopeful what we have out there now will be effective,” Stephenson said.

County maintains protection status

In Eastern Oregon, the objective of sustaining four breeding pairs over three consecutive years was met in January.

Wolves in Oregon are protected under separate state and federal endangered species acts. The 2005 ODFW Oregon Wolf Plan set a population objective of four breeding pairs for three consecutive years in eastern Oregon. In 2014, that objective was achieved. The region moved into the phase two of the plan and adopted less stringent wolf management rules.

Only wolves occurring west of Oregon highways 395, 78 and 95 are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. Only one breeding pair is confirmed to exist in the western two-thirds of the state, so in addition to federal protection, under Oregon’s wolf management plan, Klamath County is still in phase one.

“The only thing that can be done is non-lethal, non-injurious types of harassment,” Collom said.

In Klamath County and other central and western Oregon counties, wolves must be federally delisted and maintain at least four breeding pairs for three years before the management plan will downgrade to phase two.

OR-25 acting alone

According to the ODFW Oregon wolf population webpage, at least 81 wolves are in the state, but the “actual number of wolves in Oregon is likely greater than this minimum estimate.”

Stephenson said no evidence has indicated more than one wolf is in OR-25’s area of known wolf activity.

Collom said when OR-25 showed up in Klamath County, ODFW officials set up trail cameras to learn whether or not he was alone. Since that time, they have captured about six or seven trail images of him.

“Each of those times he was by himself,” Collom said.

Officials haven’t gotten an image in more than a month, he added.

“What that tells us is he’s basically set up a home range. What is unknown because he just got here in May, is what will happen this winter,” Collom said.

Collom said although elk winter in or near OR-25’s area of known wolf activity, most of deer begin moving east toward Silver Lake in late October. The disappearing food source may have been what triggered the attack.

“Not all wolf packs in Oregon, or elsewhere in the West, are known to depredate. We’ve got wolf packs in Northeast Oregon that are in and around livestock year-round and have not caused any depredation issues,” Collom said.

Stephenson said landowners should bury or haul away old carcasses and bones prevents attracting wolves or other predators to cattle operations.

“Even if they are old white-washed bones, those will attract wolves,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said landowners concerned about wolves should contact the Klamath Falls U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office or the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.





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