Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board

So much for the old adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

Aquartet of environmental groups thinks it's unseemly, and maybe worse, for officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to even be seen in public with people who don't much like the gray wolves that that agency is responsible for managing in Northeastern Oregon.

The groups - Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Hells Canyon Preservation Council and Oregon Wild - sent a letter last week to Gov. John Kitzhaber. They beseech the governor to prohibit ODFW employees from attending a May 12 event in Albany whose roster of slated speakers includes some whose public statements imply that they condone the illegal killing of wolves.

We share the environmental groups' disdain for that position. We have repeatedly argued on this page that wolves can co-exist - although not always peacefully - with people and livestock in Oregon.

We don't, though, agree with the notion, which the groups expressed in their letter to Kitzhaber, that ODFW officials' attending the May 12 event is tantamount to the state endorsing the slaughter of Oregon's fledgling population of wolves.

ODFW presence at the event, the groups wrote, "would give a wink and a nod to those who would violate the state's most basic fish and wildlife protection laws, and do grievous harm to the agency's credibility on wildlife conservation."

This seems to us more than a slight exaggeration.

The brochure for the May 12 event lists only one ODFW official - the agency's director, Roy Elicker, who has been invited as a guest speaker.

The brochure doesn't say, but we think the odds are next to nothing that Elicker, who plans to attend the event, will say anything that a reasonable person could construe as giving a "wink and a nod" to wolf poachers.

ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said Elicker "feels it is important that we attend so that we can provide factual information, (and) support wolf recovery in Oregon - and that is what we intend to do."

Whether ODFW is sufficiently vigilant in trying to protect the state's four small wolf packs is a valid question.

And the signatories to the Kitzhaber letter are no doubt still sore about the agency issuing kill permits last year for a couple of wolves that killed cattle in Wallowa County (the Oregon Court of Appeals canceled those permits before any wolves were killed).

But the environmental groups' attempt to portray Elicker's attendance as evidence of a wolf-slaying conspiracy, of which the state is a vital member, insults those who appreciate the difficulties ODFW faces in overseeing the return of wolves to Oregon.

Moreover, the letter-signers themselves don't seem certain about whether the relationship between ODFW and the organizers of the May 12 event is cozy or combative.

On the one hand, the environmental groups fret in the letter that mere ODFW representation at the event, never mind what Elicker might actually say there, constitutes "support for an anti-wolf event."

Yet in the same letter they contend that one scheduled speaker has advocated "reprisals against state employees who enforce federal wildlife safeguards."

Employees such as those from ODFW.

So which is it?

Does the anti-wolf cabal planning the May 12 conference consider ODFW an ally, hence the invitation to Elicker, or does this outfit seek to punish the ODFW director and his employees who try to manage, rather than eradicate, wolves?

Which brings us back to that "friends and enemies" chestnut we mentioned above.

If the event organizers are suspicious of ODFW's goals, then wouldn't it be wise to have an agency presence on May 12, the better to keep tabs on the wolf-haters?

Ultimately, the letter to Kitzhaber seems to us a publicity stunt intended to embarrass ODFW for trying to balance the worthwhile goal of restoring wolves to Oregon with the equally valid objective of protecting livestock and big game herds.

Asking Kitzhaber to ban ODFW from the conference is akin to the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, which is promoting the May 12 event, lobbying the governor to forbid agency employees from attending any event put on by environmental groups that celebrate the return of the wolf.

So long as Elicker doesn't show up on Facebook posing with a rifle draped across a wolf carcass, we're not especially concerned about which public conferences he attends.

Frankly we'd rather Elicker spend more time out mingling with people. All sorts of people - those who venerate the wolf and those who despise it.

He's apt to learn a lot more about the wolf controversy - and maybe even glean some knowledge that will help wolves - than if he's confined to his office by his boss, like a child banished to his bedroom because he wouldn't eat the green beans on his dinner plate.