Despite evidence to the contrary, in the form of dead sheep in Baker
County last year and dead cattle this year in Wallowa County, we
believe wolves and livestock can both thrive in Northeastern Oregon.
But achieving that goal will require compromise.
And not between wolves and their domestic prey.
We're talking about the relationship between the state and federal
agencies responsible for managing wolves, and the coalition of groups
that celebrate the return of wolves to Oregon after an absence of more
than half a century.
What happened last year in Baker County, when a pair of wolves
killed more than two dozen livestock in Keating Valley, proves that
that relationship can work.
Although we'll concede that that situation was more straightforward than what's taken place this year in Wallowa County.
In Baker County there was ample evidence, including photographs, linking the two wolves to the livestock kills.
When those wolves, after being gone for most of the summer, returned to a ranch in Keating Valley and resumed their attacks on livestock, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) authorized officials from the federal Wildlife Services to kill the two wolves.
Federal workers did so in early September.
None of the pro-wolf groups filed a lawsuit to block the federal hunters.
This year in Wallowa County, wolves killed at least six cattle (some ranchers contend the tally is higher) in May and early June.
There hasn't been a confirmed wolf attack on livestock there since June 4.
ODFW issued permits to Wildlife Services to kill two wolves. The permits are effective through Aug. 31.
Although no wolves have been killed, a quartet of conservation groups on July 1 sued Wildlife Services, accusing the agency of not fully studying the effects of killing two wolves.
Wildlife Services responded the next day by voluntarily agreeing to not kill any wolves until Aug. 1 at the soonest.
And that's where the tenuous ceasefire stands.
The plaintiffs posed a valid question: Would killing two wolves now, this month, save any livestock in Wallowa County?
It makes no sense to kill wolves if doing so is not necessary to protect domestic animals. However, absent permission from ODFW, federal hunters can't deal with the Wallowa wolves should they suddenly regain their taste for beef. That, too, is unacceptable.
The key issue in this situation, ultimately, is trust.
Specifically, whether wolf advocates trust that ODFW, even accounting for its decision to issue wolf-kill permits, is committed to enabling wolves to re-establish a healthy, sustainable population in Oregon.
Based on the recent lawsuit, it seems that trust is lacking.
But what we've seen leads us to believe that ODFW truly intends to seek a balance not only between wolves and livestock, but also between wolves and game animals such as elk.
The return of wolves to Oregon was never going to be harmonious. But consensus is possible, as last year's events in Baker County proved.
Such consensus will prove elusive, though, if wolf advocates file lawsuits when the only animals that have been killed are livestock.