Oregon has just made it easier for trophy hunters and trappers to go after the state’s small population of wolves.
In a move strenuously opposed by scientists, environmentalists and animal protection groups, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday updated its Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, opening the door for the trophy hunting of wolves in areas of the state where they are no longer protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
There are just 137 known wolves in Oregon. The population is still in a fragile state of recovery after decades of indiscriminate hunting and trapping that had essentially wiped out Oregon’s wolf population. It was only 10 years ago that the first wolf returned to the state. Making it easier to kill these gorgeous American native carnivores at this time makes no scientific sense and it could very well drive them once more to the point of extirpation.
The commission’s final decision was influenced by a small but belligerent lobby of trophy hunters and trappers, and built on exaggerated claims about livestock conflict. The major cause of livestock mortality in Oregon and elsewhere come from illness, birthing and weather problems and theft. In fact, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show that wolves were responsible for only 0.04 percent of cattle and sheep losses in the Northern Rocky Mountain states, including Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, in 2014 and 2015. An analysis of this data by HSUS researchers earlier this year showed that even these small numbers were highly exaggerated by the USDA.
The best available science shows that native carnivores like wolves keep ungulate herds healthy by removing the sick, weak, and old animals. They rarely prey upon the prime-age breeding animals favored by hunters. Yet, the plan also falsely asserts that killing wolves boosts deer and elk populations. On the other hand, as I recently wrote in a blog, keeping wolves in their native ecosystems maintains the natural balance and removing them can lead to an explosion of the populations of other predators, like coyotes.
What is also of great concern to us is that Oregon’s plan allows for cruel trapping. The state does not specify trap check requirements for wolves and animals caught in traps can suffer for days or even weeks, eventually dying of predation, dehydration, starvation or extreme temperatures. These inhumane devices are also highly indiscriminate and can snare family pets and other wildlife, including endangered species.
Indiscriminately killing native carnivores is typically an ineffective and costly approach to address livestock conflict and research shows it will ultimately fail as a long-term strategy. Non-lethal alternatives to predator removal, including simple deterrence methods like fencing, guard animals, range riders, and noisemaking and fladry devices to protect livestock, are more effective strategies for keeping conflicts low.
Oregon’s plan is especially problematic because it comes at a time when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already proposed stripping gray wolves of federal protections across the lower 48 states. If that proposed rule passes, trophy hunters and trappers could be free to go after wolves anywhere in the state. Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown has voiced her opposition to the national delisting, but we are disappointed that her office failed to demand that the state’s own agency maintain protections for wolves.
America’s wolves are not a tool for politicians and wildlife officials to appease trophy hunters and trappers. A majority of Americans — and Oregonians — do not support the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves, and would much prefer to see these animals alive and thriving in the wild than as a trophy in someone’s living room. We still have an opportunity to influence our federal government to do the right thing by not delisting wolves from the Endangered Species Act. Help us end the war on wolves by submitting a comment and by telling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service you oppose this scientifically unsound and politically motivated rule.