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Oregon delists gray wolf from state endangered species protections

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.

Report: Oregon wolves multiplied, expanded in 2014

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Oregon has released its draft 2014 Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Annual Report and it's available online.

The report, required by the federal government for states dealing with gray wolf recovery, includes the 2014 update for Oregon’s Wolf Population.

  • Nine wolf packs and six new pairs of wolves were documented in Oregon in 2014.
  • Oregon’s minimum known wolf population at the end of 2014 was 77 wolves, including eight breeding pairs.

At the end of 2013, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials estimated a minimum of 64 wolves in the state in eight packs including four breeding pairs.

Washington is still working on its 2014 surveys and report.  Officials say lack of snow for tracking and boosting aerial surveys has made it more difficult than usual to evaluate the state's wolf population.

Oregon wolf census prompts talk of de-listing from ESA protections

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Oregon's prolific gray wolves have moved into a new recovery management phase that gives ranchers more flexibility in dealing with threats to their animals, including shooting wolves caught chasing livestock.

In the most recent census, wolves have hit the threshold for consideration as early as June of taking them off the state endangered species list.

 Wildlife biologists documented seven breeding pairs of wolves in Oregon in 2014, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said Tuesday.  Confirmation of at least four breeding pairs for the third consecutive year in eastern Oregon moves the eastern part of the state to Phase 2 of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

“This is an important step for Oregon," said Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator. "Wolves have now met one of the initial milestones envisioned by the public and the Commission.

"In the past seven years, Oregon has gone from no known wolves, to resident and reproducing wolves, and now to meeting our conservation objective for the eastern part of the state.”

In addition to breeding pairs, the department documented four new pairs of wolves in 2014, including confirmation of a second wolf in the Keno Unit last week.

Of the state's nine known wolf packs, only the Imnaha Pack is not a breeding pair. The Umatilla River pack still needs to be surveyed. 

A breeding pair is a pair of adult wolves which produce at least two pups that survive to the end of each year. Six of Oregon’s 2014 breeding pairs are in eastern Oregon.

Most known wolf activity, including eight of the nine known wolf packs, is east of Highways 395-78-95. This is the area of the state where wolves are also delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act.

Wolf-livestock conflict in this area is now managed under Phase 2 rules of the Oregon Wolf Plan. Non-lethal measures to prevent wolf-livestock conflict are still emphasized in Phase 2, but livestock producers now have more flexibility to protect their livestock.

Specifically, producers in the easternmost portion of the state are allowed to shoot a wolf caught chasing livestock under certain circumstances.

West of Highways 395-78-95, wolves remain listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates all take and harassment of wolves where wolves are federally listed. The only known wolves in this area are the Rogue Pack (OR7) and two new wolves recently confirmed in the Keno Unit.

ODFW  biologists are working to complete 2014 wolf population counts for the annual state wolf report required from all Northern Rockies wolf recovery states by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The transition to Phase 2 also marks the initiation of the state delisting process in Oregon as outlined in the Wolf Plan. ODFW will begin conducting a full status review and will present the results of that review to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in April. 

Delisting from the Oregon List of Endangered Species is a public process and the Commission could make their decision as early as June 2015.

“The Wolf Plan is working and the wolf population in Oregon expanding as the original crafters of the Plan thought it would,” said Brett Brownscombe, ODFW interim deputy director.  “We should embrace this wildlife success as wolves’ return to the Oregon landscape and ensure management approaches are also in place to address the challenges that come with wolves.”

Oregon wolf pack one livestock attack away from lethal action

ENDANGERED SPECIES — One of Oregon’s wolf packs is one livestock attack away from becoming the first to be considered for a kill order under the state’s unique rules.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday that the Umatilla Pack, which roams mostly private land about 30 miles west of Pendleton, has been confirmed responsible for killing a sheep last week in a private pasture. Two other attacks occurred in June.

Oregon's rules prevent wildlife officers from killing a wolf unless three conditions are met:

  • There’s hard evidence the pack is responsible for four livestock attacks over the past six months,
  • the rancher has taken nonlethal steps to protect his livestock,
  • the department feels wolf attacks are likely to continue even with more nonlethal protections.

“Under these rules, the key consideration for lethal control or any other actions will be to take an action that minimizes the risk of further depredation,” department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said in an email.

Here's more information on the Oregon situation, with background on wolf attacks on livestock, from the Associated Press:

The rules were adopted last year as the result of a lawsuit by conservation groups.

Joseph cattle rancher Todd Nash said he was looking forward to the day when Oregon’s wolves are numerous enough to be taken off the state endangered species list, and the Oregon Wolf Plan would go into Phase Two, when lethal control rules would ease.

That could happen after this winter’s statewide wolf count. The Oregon Wolf Plan sets a goal of four packs successfully producing pups for three consecutive years before delisting can be considered. That has been met the past two years.

Dennehy said delisting is not automatic, and would have to go through a public process. Even under Phase Two, there would be rules for considering lethal control, though they would be less stringent than they are now.

Rob Klavins of the conservation group Oregon Wild said they would prefer a science-based conservation goal for delisting, rather than one set by political negotiation.

“Oregon is doing better than any other state in trying to balance legitimate concerns with science-based conservation and Oregon conservation values,” he said. “It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than any other state.”

Overall, the number of confirmed wolves statewide has grown from 48 in 2012 to 64 last year. The number of packs grew from six to eight, though only four successfully raised pups last year.

So far this year, there have been six confirmed wolf attacks on livestock in Oregon, according to the department website. There were 13 in 2013, eight in 2012, and 10 in 2011. Other packs have come within one attack of coming under consideration for lethal control.

Photo shows Imnaha wolf pack has at least one pup

ENDANGERED SPECIES — While lots of eyes and camera lenses are out there trying to get a handle on the growth of northwest wolf packs, a remote camera in Oregon came up with at least one solid find: The Imnaha wolf pack in northeast Oregon was parading past the camera with at least one of this year's pups in tow.

A black-colored pups was photographed July 16 by an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife camera.  It's traveling with the Imnaha pack’s alpha female (its mother). So far, photographs and visual observations have turned up only one pup for the Imnaha pack this year, but more pups may be found.

Oregon Fish and Wildlife has made other photos of the pack available here.

At least three members of the Imnaha pack dispersed from the pack in the past few months, biologists say, including one collared female that moved into Washington last winter when she was 1.5 years old.

“Wolf packs are dynamic and rarely stay the same size over time,” noted Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator. “A pack can be healthy despite these natural fluctuations in numbers, as long as a breeding pair of wolves, the alpha male and female, is maintained.” 

Oregon wolf kill lawsuit dropped; wolf killed

PREDATORS — Environmental groups have dropped a legal fight to keep state wildlife officials from killing two wolves in northeastern Oregon, according to a report on Northwest Public Radio. The wolves are blamed for recent livestock deaths in that area.

When wildlife managers first announced they would go after two wolves in the Imnaha Pack, four conservation groups went to court. But the NWPR story points out that at that point gray wolves were still on the federal endangered species list.

Things are different now, the story explains.

Meanwhile, Oregon wildlife biologists trapped and killed a gray wolf early Tuesday on an eastern Oregon ranch near Joseph, where wolves had killed livestock last month.

The young uncollared male wolf was part of the Imnaha pack, which has killed at least four domestic animals so far this year on private grazing land near Wallowa Lake, the Oregonian reports. Numbering about 14 now, the pack killed domestic livestock in the same area in May 2010