Oregon’s recent move to reduce protections for wolves is going to court.
On Dec. 30, three nonprofits filed a lawsuit challenging a November decision by the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife to remove gray wolves from the Oregon endangered species list.
The groups charge that the agency failed to follow the best available science on the health of the wolf population, “prematurely removing protections before wolves are truly recovered,” according to a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, which joined Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands in taking the state to court. “With only about 80 known adult wolves mostly confined to one small corner of the state, Oregon’s wolf population is far from recovery.”
Gray wolves, which are native to Oregon, were once found statewide and numbered in the hundreds or thousands. But an active statewide eradication program, which paid bounties for dead wolves, wiped out the population between the early 1840s and the late 1940s. The current packs are descended from wolves that were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and in the state of Idaho in the 1990s, whose populations have grown and spread westward.
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Today’s Oregon wolves occupy only a small fraction of their former range. There were 81 known wolves in Oregon at the end of 2014, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and of 16 packs counted in 2015, 13 had pups during the summer.
Removing the wolves—which continue to have federal endangered species protections—from the state endangered species roster didn’t affect how the animals are being managed in Oregon, according to a November statement from the wildlife agency. “Any take of wolves is highly regulated in Oregon, and the delisting does not mean additional take is now allowed,” the agency stated. “Hunters and trappers may not take wolves in Oregon at this time. The Wolf Plan does not allow for general season sport hunting of wolves in any phase of wolf management.”
But the move might pave the way for expanded wolf hunting if the species’ status under federal law changed in the future.
“Though Oregon’s Wolf Management Plan is working for all but the most anti-wolf interests, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is reigniting old conflicts by caving to political pressure and giving serious consideration to weakening basic protections for wolves, allowing ranchers the flexibility to shoot them if they are believed to be posing a threat to livestock,” Oregon Wild stated on its website.
The agency, however, called the decision to delist the wolf at the state level “a vote of confidence” in how the state was balancing the conservation of wolves with the concerns of ranchers.