Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

We probably won't know for some years whether the agreement announced last week resolving a lawsuit about killing wolves in Oregon is a milestone or merely a footnote.

We hope for the former.

There are reasons to be optimistic.

The deal is a rare example of collaboration between pro-wolf groups, which sued the state in 2011 to prevent officials from killing wolves that had attacked livestock, and cattle ranchers who worry that a burgeoning wolf population will decimate their herds.

In one sense, the decision by Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and other plaintiffs to resolve their lawsuit returns the situation to what it was two years ago.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) again has the authority, under certain conditions, to kill wolves that attack livestock.

And livestock owners, at least on paper, havemoreauthority, because, again under certain conditions, they would not need to get a permit from ODFW before killing wolves that are attacking or chasing livestock.

But about those "certain conditions"...

Under the new agreement, ODFW can in effect order a death sentence for a wolf or wolves that have attacked or killed livestock at least four times in any six-month period - what's known as "chronic depredation."

That's a more stringent requirement than existed before the lawsuit, when two livestock kills within six months in the same general area could trigger what's euphemistically known as "lethal control" of wolves.

However, under the new deal, if ODFW does declare a chronic depredation situation, it's not only the agency that would have the authority to kill wolves implicated in livestock attacks.

Livestock owners could do the same, without applying for a permit, if they see a wolf attacking or chasing livestock.

Nor would ranchers need a permit, as was the case in the past, to kill a wolf that's in the act of attacking livestock, regardless of whether ODFW has declared chronic depredation.

A valid question is why pro-wolf groups would agree to these concessions.

Besides raising the threshold for a chronic depredation declaration, the settlement also requires both ODFW and livestock owners, before killing a wolf, to prove that they have first tried non-lethal methods, such as installing fencing designed to deter wolves.

That seems reasonable. If we can save livestock, and wolves, then both sides of this debate should be satisfied. Which beats spending time, and money, in a series of courtrooms.