Medical Springs rancher Ron Lay's discovery this fall of tracks showing that a pair of wolves traveled together in the Wallowa Mountains reminded us that wolves almost certainly will establish packs in Oregon.

The wolves may have done so already.

(We can't be sure, as the wolves do not, as a rule, send out press releases.)

Lay's find also reminded us that state legislators need a wake-up call or howl, if you prefer about the return of these carnivores.

Almost three years have elapsed since the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a plan that sets out how the state will deal with wolves.

That plan also assumes that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency responsible for managing wolves, will remove wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains region, which includes Eastern Oregon, from the endangered species list.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to do just that, as soon as early 2008.

So long as wolves are endangered, livestock owners can't legally shoot a wolf even if the wolf is attacking a domestic animal.

Oregon's wolf plan, however, states that, once wolves lose federal protection, landowners should be allowed to kill a wolf that is mauling a domestic animal. That's meager consolation for some ranchers, who contend they're not likely to ever see such an attack. But the state plan is better than nothing.

Except that part of the plan means nothing, in essence, unless the Legislature changes state law. During both the 2005 and 2007 sessions, lawmakers failed to pass a law that gives ranchers the authority to shoot marauding wolves, as entailed in the wolf plan.

Nor did legislators make another vital change, one that would allow the state to set up a system for financially compensating livestock owners who lose animals to wolves.

Lawmakers should correct both of these past failures and pass the necessary laws during the special, experimental legislative session set for February.

The Legislature has procrastinated long enough.

The wolves, we're certain, won't.