Last Friday, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Commission decided to begin deliberating whether or not to remove gray wolves from the state’s endangered species list.
Oregon’s 77 known wolves are a dramatic improvement from when the state’s gray wolves became extinct in 1947. The wolves slowly returned from surrounding Northwest states, and Oregon now boasts 4 breeding pairs.
“Wolves are a success story in Oregon,” ODFW wolf coordinator Russ Morgan told the Statesman Journal. “Their population is growing, and their range is expanding.”
Conservation and wildlife officials are currently debating whether the wolf population is stable enough for the animals to be taken off the endangered species list.
“It’s kind of a gamble to delist wolves right now, with such low numbers,” legal director for Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands Nick Cady said. “If a few more wolves were killed than ODFW anticipates, it could swing wolves in the direction of conservation failure.”
Despite concern, the commission meeting on Friday decided to propose two bills for further consideration: one promoting the complete removal of the wolves from the endangered species list, and one re-categorizing the species as merely “threatened.”
“It’s hard to make a reasonable case that 77 known animals of any species is a legitimate, sustainable recovery,” Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild told OPB. “And it’s not appropriate to be treating wolves differently just because they may be controversial for some people.”
Little will change immediately if ODFW removes wolves from the endangered species list. In most of the state, gray wolves will still be protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and Oregon’s Wolf Plan – promoting non-lethal control in dealing with the animals.
Many argue that the ODFW title protects wolves nonetheless.
“Our main concern is the message it sends, that people will take it the wrong way and we’ll see more people going out and shooting wolves,” Cady said. “It has been our non-lethal policies that have made wolves such a success in Oregon.”