Monday, November 9, 2015 marked a day of decision for the future of wolves in Oregon. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Commission met in Salem, Oregon to hear public testimony on the proposed delisting of wolves in our state and then to vote on the subject.
The meeting began at eight in the morning and continued until seven pm. Testimony was heard from those on both sides of the issue. Out of the 77 that testified, 43 spoke up to maintain protections for wolves in Oregon, while 34 were in favor of delisting. Once testimony was complete, the Commission met with their legal counsel to discuss the possible repercussions of a partial delisting, which would remove state protections for wolves in the eastern and middle parts of the state, but would maintain protections for wolves elsewhere. It was determined that the current Endangered Species Act did not allow for this option.
So, with a vote of 4 to 2, wolves were delisted statewide.
One illusion that comes with living in a democracy is the assumption that our voices are heard. However, Monday’s actions of the ODFW Commission does not lead one to believe that they listened, except to the voices that coincided with the decision they made, and perhaps had made long before.
I did not attend. The needs of Spike, our 15 year old Jack Russell came first. He’s been having spells of some kind that lend him weak and listless, unable to walk or eat or play for hours. When he feels up to walking again, he gets stuck in corners and needs help backing out. Sometimes, he forgets how to drink. Last evening, he perked up and played like a pup with Dylan, my son and the much loved and loving owner of Spike. Then he curled up in his dog bed, worn out by the day. As you can imagine, I just didn’t feel good about leaving him.
So I stayed home and tried to watch the meeting via webcam, however technical difficulties didn’t allow this. I called the ODFW and they said they were working on it, but apparently the difficulties were too much to overcome.
Instead, I reviewed Russ Morgan’s PowerPoint on delisting grey wolves in Oregon, the submissions made by organizations and scientific sources, and the letters and emails sent to the Commission that were posted on the meeting agenda.
I learned a ton from these comments, both from the experts and from the many individuals who wrote in, some with major credentials behind their names and some whose names were followed simply by a street address. And the addresses came from all over, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Washington and Ontario.
Here are a few things I read that led me to wonder how well the Commission listened before the four of them cast their vote to delist:
Suzanne Asha Stone, Senior Northwest Representative with Defenders of Wildlife, wrote of the fact that federal delisting will likely occur soon, leaving wolves throughout Oregon without that protection. She also brought up concerns that the number of wolves coming into Oregon from Idaho may decrease as Idaho strives to meet it’s goal of fewer wolves. This could also contribute to genetic isolation issues here in Oregon. Stone questioned that delisting may reduce the important emphasis on non-lethal measures to protect livestock from wolves, leading to more problems. In her words, “As seen, improperly managed conflicts with livestock represent the single greatest challenge to wolf conservation. And if wolf and livestock conflicts are not well managed, as frequently seen elsewhere, wolves pay a heavy toll through lethal control and illegal killing.”
The Pacific Wolf Coalition submitted letters and detailed research by scientists and others knowledgeable on the subject. The summation of the findings was that none of these individuals believed that the ODFW’s recommendation to delist was sound. Those cited include Marc Becoff, Michael Soule, Barbara Brower, William Ripple, Adrien Treves, Jennifer Wolch, Robert Beschta, John Vucetich and many others. It was also mentioned that over 22,000 comments were submitted to the Commission that stood in opposition to the delisting.
Pam and Randy Comeleo of Corvallis researched how past Commissions have evaluated the status of other species up for delisting. Before state protections were removed for the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, both species had repopulated all suitable habitat in the state. Wolves in Oregon now live in only 12% of their potential range. The bald eagle and peregrine falcon were delisted only after “actual statewide recovery was verified by extensive, multi-year field surveys conducted by independent experts.” The peregrine situation underwent a formal peer review by three nationally recognized experts before delisted.
One letter that was signed by over 200 individuals stated, “Most published studies on species viability indicate there needs to be a population in the range of several thousand animals–not a mere 77–to be able to withstand catastrophic events like disease outbreak.”
Several people wrote in, via email or on handwritten or typed notes, encouraging the Commission to protect wolves in Oregon so there would be adequate numbers to disperse into California. Many of the comments expressed a belief that the decision to delist was a political one, rather than one founded on “sound, peer-reviewed science.” I read a lot of letters asking the Commission to just hold off and not rush into this decision. Many doubted the validity of the ODFW’s study that forecasts little to no chance of a population decrease in the future.
The correspondence I reviewed also included many comments urging the Commission to delist wolves. A lot of these came from members of The Oregon Hunter’s Association (OHA), who sent a notice (with a picture of a snarling wolf) to their members urged them to write letters and attend the meeting dressed in OHA attire. Overwhelmingly, the OHA comments expressed fears that they are losing elk and deer to wolves. Several said they “opposed the reintroduction of wolves in Oregon in the first place.” One wrote, “The animals breed like mice and will spread like wildfire. They serve no useful purpose to our ecosystem.” Another hunter admitted that his desire for delisting, “…may partially come from a selfish viewpoint.”
A brief email from Dave Mech is included in the ODFW literature. Mech writes that delisting is warranted and that Oregon wolves should be considered a part of the Rocky Mountain wolf population, one that is thriving and under adequate legal protection.
There was an editorial published in the Statesman Journal on November 4, 2015 that brings up a good summarizing point. Chris Albert, a DVM from Kentucky, wrote, “Perhaps wolf advocates wouldn’t be so worried about delisting wolves in Oregon if delisting hadn’t been so hard on wolves everywhere else.”
This is so true, and speaks to a far sightedness that the delisting decision does not adhere to. If Oregon follows the path of every other state and province that has denied protections for wolves we can expect a future of massive wolf “management” in the form of lethal control and liberal hunting and trapping. Delisting is only the first step. Mech’s comment that surrounding wolf populations are “legally well protected” is at the very least, an arguable one, one that sees wolves as dispensable as clay pigeons.
The antiquated thinking that emphasis only numbers disregards all evidence that wolves form close knit family groups and that the loss of family members impairs the family group in ways we are only beginning to understand. Alaskan biologist Gordon Haber understood, but his innovative beliefs are still rare in the scientific world.
I have faith in the strength of wonderful groups like Oregon Wild, Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, as well as the multitude of individuals who will continue to stand strong in protecting Oregon’s wolves. We may have lost this battle, but the entire future of wolves is ahead and will be won.