With Only 81 Wolves in Oregon, Endangered Species Protection Stripped

by Rona Fried

Every time wolves get even the smallest of toe-holds, protection is taken away, as just happened in Oregon.

I was overjoyed to hear the wolf population is growing in Oregon, but with just 81 wolves in the state, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission stripped them of protection through the Endangered Species Act this week. 

They didn’t listen to scientists who said the obvious – clearly, 81 individuals is not a viable population of wolves. There are only 7 breeding pairs in the state’s 9 wolf packs, taking up just 12% of their original range. But they did listen to ranchers and hunters who are out to kill them. 

Under Oregon’s Wolf Management Plan, only ranchers who can prove wolves have killed their livestock can get a permit to kill a wolf.  But that doesn’t mean others won’t take the risk of hunting them illegally, because without Endangered Species protection, the fines are much less. Poaching incidents are already rising, Steve Pedery, Conservation Director of Oregon Wild, told Take Part.

The Commission also recently declared open hunting season on Oregon’s cougars, opening up 6200 square miles to hunters despite overwhelming opposition. Radio-collared hounds and wire neck snares can be used, all to boost the mule deer population for hunters.  

"Oregonians made their voice heard loud and clear: we want our native lions protected and cherished, not exterminated like vermin in ‘target zones’ so there are more deer for sport hunters to shoot. The Commission is instead embracing a cruel, archaic and scientifically suspect view of wildlife management that is the exact opposite of how most Oregonians feel about the wildlife in our state," says Scott Beckstead, state director for the Humane Society of the US (HSUS). 

Unlike what trophy hunters and ranchers want the public to believe, wolves and cougars are not a threat to cattle, elk, deer, and even people.  Wolves rarely kill cattle, and they remove the sick and weak deer and elk, unlike human hunters who often seek out the biggest and best specimens. Wolves and cougars are important for maintaining healthy ecosystems, and scientific literature is loaded with evidence to support that contention, explains HSUS.

Wolves are reclaiming territory in Oregon and other parts of the West, traveling the long distance from the northern Rockies where they are under assault by state sanctioned trophy hunters and commercial trappers in Idaho ($1000 bounty) and Montana. Lawsuits restored Endangered Species protection for now in Wyoming and the Great Lakes states, but hundreds are killed each year using cruel steel-jawed traps in addition to shooting them. Remember, every loss for these pack animals means a lifelong mate is gone, and the breakup of tight families. 

About 100 wolves are in Washington State, only one of which is a breeding pair, and the wildly celebrated wolf – named OR7 – has established a family in southern Oregon and northern California. Thankfully, California did the right thing by listing wolves on the state’s Endangered Species List just in time to welcome 0R7 and his family. 

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) wants the governor and legislature to reverse delisting in Oregon. 


Wolves OR7

On the national level, the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) wants to strip wolves from Endangered Species status across the US – the very agency that worked to hard to return wolves from the brink of extinction since 1995.

There are about 5,000 gray wolves in the lower 48 states. The  healthy population in Alaska has been hunted from helicopters for years.

Congressional Wolf/ Wildlife Haters

All this wolf-killing began with a rider attached to the must-pass 2011 budget. It was the first time that politics ruled over science in removing a species from the Endangered Species List. Representatives from Idaho and Montana wanted protection for the 1500 wolves there to end – and they got it.

Now, we see the same situation again. Congress must pass a budget by mid-December and the same riders are back. This time the entire Endangered Species Act is threatened, as it often is when Republicans have the majority.

Over the past five years, Congressional Republicans have launched 164 attacks on the Endangered Species Act, according to Politics of Extinction, by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Five Republicans are behind 25% of them, receiving millions of dollars in campaign contributions from oil, gas, agriculture and other industries opposed to Endangered Species Act protections: Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), Rep. Don Young (R-AK), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Contributions have risen from $10 million in 2004 to $25 million in 2014, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Rabid wolf-hater Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) is Chair of the powerful House Natural Resources Committee. Other newly elected members of the "House Wolf-Haters Caucus" are Mike Enzi and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Cory Garner (R-CO) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) in the Senate. 

For example, the Department of Interior’s Appropriations Bill contains language that reverses court rulings in Wyoming and the Great Lakes. Again, it strips wolves of endangered species status, and this time permanently blocks citizen legal action that could overturn the decision again.

"Bishop and his cronies will use their budget-setting powers to hamstring conservationists’ ability to implement the Endangered Species Act," says the Center for Biological Diversity. "They are  bound and determined to do everything they can to push wolves back to the brink of extinction."

Also in Interior’s funding bill:

  • blocks FWS from cracking down on the ivory trade in the US (supported by the National Rifle Association).
  • turns over millions of acres of American wilderness for drilling, mining and off-road vehicles.

Riders would:

  • Establish arbitrary land boundaries where species protections would not apply
  • Introduce bills under the guise of drought relief to roll back environmental safeguards
  • Limiting citizens’ ability to sue to enforce the act
  • Blocking protection for specific species like the sage grouse, which gets in the way of oil and gas drilling, by inserting riders to lots of different bills. 

This week, legislation introduced in the Senate removes  protection for wolves in the Great Lakes state and Wyoming, and bars courts from intervening in the victim’s behalf. Sponsors are Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). The House passed this legislation earlier in the year.

They did so as 92 Democrats in the House and 25 in the Senate sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to reject the "record number of anti-environmental provisions undermining the Endangered Species Act" including the rider that would remove federal protections for gray wolves."

Tell your representatives how you feel about this.

Read, Political Animals: 7 Ways Congress is Trying to Destroy the Endangered Species Act:

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