By Katy Nesbitt
The last Oregon gray wolf was killed on the Umpqua National Forest for a bounty in 1946, until a female wolf from Idaho made her way to the Middle Fork of the John Day River in 1999.
In those intervening 53 years. American attitudes changed about natural resources, the environment, and wildlife. In 1973 the federal Endangered Species Act was passed.
At the time, a few gray wolves were known to reside in northern states along the Canadian border.
In the early 1980s wolves dispersing from Canada were recolonizing in northwestern Montana. By 1987, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with a team of stakeholders, completed a recovery plan.
That same year, the Oregon Endangered Species Act was passed, including protection of wolves, a species that had been officially absent for 40 years.
Four years later Congress approved the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and the wilderness of central Idaho. By 1995, six packs had established territory on their own in Montana. In the winters of 1995 and 1996, 31 wolves were released in Yellowstone and 35 in Idaho, the two largest roadless areas in the Lower 48.
But wolves don't read maps, and their eventual migration west was anticipated.
Some Oregonians welcomed their arrival while others began a defense. As early as 1993, before the federal reintroduction in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, Wallowa County commissioners passed a resolution that any species introduction must be done in concurrence with the county.
By 1999 Idaho wolves were making their way into Oregon. A radio-collared female, B-45, was found near John Day and taken back to Idaho by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The next year one wolf was hit and killed on Interstate 84 near Baker City, and another was found shot and killed outside of Ukiah in Umatilla County.
Interest, both for and against wolves, prompted the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to initiate the public's involvement in 2002. The Wildlife Commission directed the agency to organize four informational workshops in 2002. Twenty-nine speakers from various states including Oregon addressed the Commission regarding the political, social, economic and biological aspects of wolf management including Ed Bangs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Carter Niemeyer, the USDA Wildlife Services agent involved with the capture and reintroduction of wolves, and Curt Mack, wolf biologist for the Nez Perce Tribe.
Following the workshops, 15 town hall meetings were held throughout the state in late 2002 and early 2003 including one in Enterprise and one in Baker City.
The following year the Commission began developing a wolf conservation and management plan to address the eventual arrival of wolves, provide livestock owners with tools to deal with depredations, and to fulfill the conservation mandate of the state's endangered species act.
The Commission appointed 14 members to a Wolf Advisory Committee comprised of a vast cross section of citizens including ranchers, educators, conservationists, a county commissioner, and agency representatives. Their self-imposed mission was "to ensure the conservation of gray wolves as required by Oregon law while protecting the social and economic interests of all Oregonians."
The Committee began working in November 2003 and completed an initial draft for review in October 2004. On Feb. 11, 2005, the Commission adopted the plan and associated rules.
Both committee members from Northeast Oregon, Cove rancher Sharon Beck and Wallowa County Commissioner Ben Boswell, opposed the final wolf plan and submitted minority reports.
The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was modeled after those written in Montana and Idaho; until a year ago Wyoming did not have a federally approved plan. The Oregon wolf plan applies to all lands in Oregon except Indian reservations under sovereign tribal authority.
The 189-page document covers wolf-livestock conflicts, working dog and pet loss, wolf-ungulate predation, interaction with other carnivores and humans, and economic considerations.
The Commission left three issues to the discretion of the Oregon Legislature andndash; classifying the wolf as a "special status" or non-game mammal, allowing livestock owners without a permit to shoot a wolf caught in the act of killing livestock on their land, and creating a compensation program to mitigate for the loss of domestic livestock due to wolf depredation.
In 2011 a compensation bill was passed by the legislature and signed that August by Gov. John Kitzhaber. The Oregon Department of Agriculture wrote the rules for the law by the end of the year and in spring 2012, the first payments, supported by both federal and state funds, were paid out to Wallowa County ranchers.
Compensation committees have been formed in other counties. Since last spring's pay-outs, Baker and Umatilla ranchers have suffered confirmed livestock losses to wolves as well qualifying them for reimbursement of market value of their losses.
Money distributed through the state's compensation program must also pay for nonlethal deterrents. Counties can put in for equipment to protect livestock from wolves. Radio-activated guard boxes emit loud sounds when a collared wolf comes within its range, and fladry, or electrified flagged fencing, a European method to scare away wolves from enclosed pastures, and range riders can be hired to monitor collared wolves.
Wolves may be considered for statewide delisting once the population reaches four breeding pairs for three consecutive years in Eastern Oregon. To date, five packs qualify, starting the clock to wolves being delisted.
The plan says wolves involved in chronic depredation may be killed by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife or USDA Wildlife Services personnel. In the summer of 2010 both agencies were sued for exercising this authority.
The following spring, state biologists killed two wolves in Wallowa County when federal and state officials deemed that the Imnaha wolf pack's kills were chronic depredation. In September, the state again moved to lethal control, but was stopped by an injunction filed Oct. 10. The suit is on-going.
Once the wolf is delisted, which could happen in as few as three years, more options would be available to address wolf-livestock conflict. Wolves may be considered for statewide delisting once the population reaches four breeding pairs for three consecutive years in Eastern Oregon.
The plan calls for managing wolves in Western Oregon as if the species remains listed until the Western Oregon wolf population reaches four breeding pairs. This means, for example, that a landowner would be required to obtain a permit to address depredation problems using injurious harassment.
While there are five to seven breeding pairs, landowners may kill a wolf involved in chronic depredation with a permit. Five to seven breeding pairs is considered the management population objective, or Phase 2.
Under Phase 3 (seven breeding pairs), wolves caught in the act of killing livestock on public or private land may be killed without a permit. In addition, a limited controlled hunt could be allowed to decrease chronic depredation or reduce pressure on wild ungulate populations.