PREDATORS -- The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 this evening, Nov. 9, to delist wolves from the state Endangered Species Act throughout the state.
The meeting began at 8 a.m. and adjourned at 6:44 p.m. About 106 people on both sides of the vote came to testify and they were limited to three minutes each.
The action removes wolves from the state ESA but has no other effect on wolf management at this time, state wildlife managers say.
Any take of wolves remains tightly regulated under the state's wolf management plan. Killing wolves is allowed only if they’re caught in the act of attacking or involved in repeated livestock damage.
"Non-lethal preventive measures to prevent wolf-livestock conflict are the first choice of wildlife managers in all phases of wolf management," the agency said in a release. "There is no general season sport hunting of wolves allowed in any phase of the Wolf plan."
Wolves in western Oregon will continue to be managed with ESA-like protections until they reach plan's Phase 1 conservation objective of four breeding pairs for three consecutive years.
West of Highways 395-78-95 wolves are also still listed under the federal Endangered Species Act and the commission’s action has no effect on their federal status.
Washington continues to protect wolves statewide under state endangered species protections plus federal protections that apply in the western third of the state.
Wolves in eastern Oregon moved to Phase 2 of management earlier this year. They will move to Phase 3 after state Fish and Wildlife Department officials document seven breeding pairs for three consecutive years, which could occur as early as January 2017.
Oregon’s has documented a minimum of 81 gray wolves in 15 verified packs.
In Phase 3 while wolves are delisted, controlled take of wolves in situations of chronic depredation or wolf-related declines of prey populations (deer and elk) is allowed with commission approval.
However, delisting clears the way for a decision in the future to allow controlled wolf hunting, should the predator’s population continue to grow.
The vote was not unanimous. Commissioner Greg Wolley voted not to delist while Commissioner Laura Anderson supported delisting only in the eastern part of the state and voted against the motion.
Other Commissioners also expressed support for delisting in eastern Oregon only. However, they noted that Oregon ESA law does not allow for delisting in only a portion of the state. Commissioners will be sending a note to the Oregon State Legislature asking that the law be changed so that listing and delisting would be allowed in only a portion of the state for other species in the future.
Commissioners also asked that penalties for unlawfully taking a wolf be increased. Currently, the maximum penalty is a $6,250 fine and a year in jail and that penalty does not change with the delisting of wolves.
Oregon public broadcasting reporters said about 100 people testified during the marathon session "punctuated with applause, tears and angry yells from hunters and ranchers who want fewer protections for wolves and wildlife advocates and environmentalists who argue the animal is not ready for delisting."
Environmental groups argued the number of wolves in the state, and the percent of potential range they currently occupy, is too low to consider removing endangered species status.
They said they would consider suing the state to reverse the commission’s decision.
Among their arguments was the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s analysis of the state’s wolf population.
Darren Clark, state wildlife research project manager, said his agency’s analysis was conservative. While some may quibble with pieces of the results, he said, “In the grand scheme of things, that’s not going to change the fact that wolves are an increasing population and not at risk of extinction.”
Commission members and advocates for delisting the wolf questioned whether environmental groups were reneging on a wolf plan to which they previously agreed.