Native to Oregon, gray wolves were at one time a thriving species. In 1855, expedition naturalist George Suckley noted that “wolves are exceedingly numerous in Oregon and Washington Territories, from the Cascades to the Rocky Mountain divide.” However, the wolf species was nearly wiped out in the West through a government eradication program in the 1930s that included widespread poisoning of wolves. Wolf packs virtually ceased to exist in the U.S., including Oregon. Wolves were listed as endangered in 1974, and the government has spent more than $27 million on what they consider successful recovery efforts in the Northern Rockies.
“Gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains are thriving and no longer require the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said Interior Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett. “The wolf’s recovery in the Northern Rocky Mountains is a conservation success story.”
According to Ed Bangs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Recovery coordinator, the program’s goals have been accomplished although USFW did require Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to create wolf management plans. “The fact that we’ve restored a wolf population [means] we’ve got more wolves in more places than we ever hoped, with fewer problems than we hoped.” Bangs says. “It’s a pretty good feeling to know that this final part of this recovery project is happening, and the future conservation of wolves is secure in state hands.”
The restoration effort, however, has been unpopular with ranchers and many others in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana since it began in the mid-1990s and there are plans to allow hunters to target the animals in these states as soon as this fall. The delisting and the hunting plans have angered environmental groups. On February 27, Earthjustice, the top American ecological law firm, submitted a notice to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to challenge the delisting of the gray wolf as a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Earthjustice submitted the notice letter on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands Project, and Western Watersheds Project.
“The enduring hostility to wolves still exists,” said Earthjustice’s attorney Doug Honnold. “We’re going to have hundreds of wolves killed under state management. It’s a sad day for our wolves.”
There is also the belief that public hunting could reduce the chance of wolves spreading to neighboring states such as Oregon, Washington, Utah, and Colorado.
While Oregon was not one of the states required to create a wolf plan, they did anyway. The goal of Oregon’s wolf plan, adopted in December 2005, is to ensure wolves’ long-term survival and conservation in Oregon while minimizing conflicts with humans, primary land uses and other Oregon wildlife.
According to Russ Morgan with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state has no plan to delist the animal until there’s proof four breeding pairs are living here in Oregon for three consecutive years. Even though the federal government delisted the wolves, they are still protected under the Oregon State Endangered Species Act. As far as the future of Oregon’s wolf population, Morgan says it’s difficult to predict.
“If the population declines drastically in Idaho near the Oregon border, that could slow the growth [of the wolf population] in Oregon,” he said. “But wolves can travel tremendous distances so even if there is a decline near the border, we can expect Oregon’s population to continue to grow, just not as quickly.”
Morgan is also pleased that Oregon had the foresight to collaborate with different stakeholders to create a wolf conservation and management plan even before the federal government took action.
“It’s a fortunate position to be in and I feel confident that it’s a doable plan.” Morgan said.