In the past year, the gray wolf has once again been in the national spotlight due to terrible changes in federal and state policies. Last October, wolves nationwide lost protections under the federal Endangered Species Act despite their low numbers or complete absence from suitable habitats in most western states, including here in Oregon, where the return of wolves is still in its early days.
Then, in recent months, the states of Idaho and Montana have adopted new draconian hunting and trapping policies that ensure the continued persecution and slaughter of wolves in those states, with the clear political goal of reducing wolf numbers to the minimum populations allowed by federal law. Wolf management by the western states is pushing the species back towards the Endangered Species list. Conservation and animal welfare groups and Indigenous organizations have asked Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to relist and protect wolves under federal authority.
The pattern of anti-wolf management holds here in Oregon, too. Wolves are still being killed for the sake of livestock production despite the wolves still having protected status under state laws. During the last two weeks, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) authorized the killing of up to five wolves from two different packs in Baker and Umatilla counties because of livestock predation on both private and public lands.
ODFW has reportedly only killed two of the five wolves so far, but the two were both just pups, only three-and-a-half months old and certainly not a direct threat to livestock. Killing wolf puppies is a despicable practice, and it must not become a pattern. These senseless killings should be condemned by all Oregonians.
To reduce conflict between livestock and wildlife, cattle and sheep should be removed from the public lands. Domestic grazers destroy native vegetation, trample fragile riparian areas and outcompete and displace native wildlife like elk, mule deer and antelope. The livestock industry has shaped the landscape for over 150 years, dewatered and polluted our rivers and streams, cost us our topsoil, spread flammable invasive weeds, and captured land management agencies for far too long already.
The wildlife in Oregon “belongs” to all of us and we should no longer tolerate business-as-usual where ranchers rule the roost and call the shots. Sixty-six percent of Oregonians support protections for the gray wolf but the wishes of the majority are grossly underrepresented in government policies that allow cattle to take precedence over wildlife protection. It is time to give native wildlife and ecosystem health a seat at the table.
The gray wolf needs our support to finally end over a century of violent eradication efforts and wildlife management that has been based on fear and myth rather than science. Oregon must do better than our neighbors who can’t seem to reckon with the 21st century understanding that native predators benefit ecosystems and that our forests and grasslands have suffered in their absence. The return of wolves to Oregon is a benefit to all of us which should be widely celebrated. The recent kill orders — and the dead wolf pups — are inexcusable.