By Tabitha Harris,
Domestic News Writer
The presence, or absence, of gray wolves on the Endangered Species List has been a controversial issue dating back to the 90s. Gray wolves had more or less vanished from the Rocky Mountain region prior to the 90s but were reinstated during that time period. In April of 2011, Congress removed about 1,300 wolves from the Endangered Species List, marking a prominent moment in US history. It was the first time Congress had ever struck an animal from the list.
In December of 2014, the Obama administration made a decision to remove gray wolves in the Great Lakes region from the list, affecting wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, in 2012, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service ended federal protections for gray wolves in that area; instead handing them over to state management. The result was a rather large increase in the hunting and trapping of gray wolves.
According to Jonathan Lovvern, “trophy hunters and trapped killed more than 1,500 wolves” from the time federal protection was removed to 2014. In light of this, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled in 2014 that the removal of the wolves was “arbitrary and capricious” and prohibited ongoing trapping and hunting of wolves in the Great Lakes Region. So gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin returned to the Endangered Species List.
Now in 2015, the fight for presence of gray wolves on the Endangered Species List has made its way to the state of Oregon.
Eighty-one wolves reside in Oregon and, according to state biologists, the number is an optimal one. On the surface, it would seem that gray wolves run no risk of extinction, at least in the near future. However, independent scientists have another view on the issue. They maintain that although delisting wolves may not lead to their immediate extinction by over-eager hunters, more stringent measures may need to be taken in the future to handle the potential influx in the gray wolf population.
Despite the misgivings of these scientists, gray wolves were indeed eliminated from the Endangered Species List by Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission. The meeting on Monday in Salem, Oregon ended in a 4-2 vote and, as expected, the backlash was significant. Scott Beckstead, senior Oregon state director of The Humane Society of the United States, labelled the decision “premature” and declared that “it followed a disturbing pattern of [the Fish and Wildlife Commission] waging war against our native carnivores”.
His adamant assertion came in response to a prior October verdict by the Fish and Wildlife Commission to sanction the killing of cougars in Oregon. Since the older members of the wolf and cougar species are typically hunted, the ensuing damage it does the remaining population is substantial, according to the Humane Society. The young are left without protection and so are rendered more vulnerable to starvation and attack by predators. These misgivings are more or less unfounded as the ruling does not allow for unrestricted wolf hunting but rather for concerned ranchers to dispose of threats to their livestock and cattle.
Conditions for delisting gray wolves in Oregon are as follows: if four or more breeding pairs of wolves are found in the state for three years in a row, they are no longer in danger of extinction.
The latest survey, taken in February of this year, revealed the presence of nine wolf packs with seven breeding pairs. Although the state has delisted gray wolves, the federal Endangered Species List still grants protection for wolves in the western two-thirds of Oregon. Similarly to the Great Lakes region mentioned at the beginning of this article, the western section of Oregon is protected under federal law.
Federal protection, however, does not extend to eastern Oregon which remains under state management when it comes to the matter of gray wolves on the Endangered Species List.
This federal/state divide reflects the sentiments of Oregonians living in the eastern and western portions of the state. Those in the west take no issue with the existence of the wolves and welcome them. On the other hand, citizens in the east resent the havoc gray wolves wreak when they come into contact with livestock and desire leave to shoot and kill them when necessary.
During the meeting in Salem, “lines of allegiance” were clearly drawn” as ranchers crowded in on one side of the room, decked in ten-gallon hats, while wolf defenders filled in the opposite side, clad in orange T-shirts bearing pictures of wolves. In the end, the ranchers won and westerners were left to fight another day.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 17th print edition.
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