Eastern Oregon ranchers, my wife and I want to send you some healing thoughts: You don't need to suffer from your fear of wolves. Really. Breathe in...breathe out. Embrace reality. You're safe. There's no wolf at the door. Little Red Riding Hood is a fairy tale.
Unfortunately, so far the ranchers and other wolf-phobic Oregonians haven't gotten the therapy that they need. House Bill 4158 is evidence. Introduced in this month's mini-legislative session, it "allows killing of wolves to address depredation of livestock."
I guess the sponsors of the bill, which was introduced at the request of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, were so busy locking their doors and putting in wolf-proof security systems they didn't take time to find out that the Oregon Wolf Plan already allows for killing of wolves -- but only after non-lethal preventive measures have been attempted.
Earlier this year, wolves lost federal Endangered Species Act protection via a congressional budget rider. Shortly after, Oregon Fish and Wildlife ordered the killing of two additional wolves in response to a series of livestock losses blamed on the Imnaha Pack. Following those killings, some members of the pack dispersed, leaving just four members, two of which were the target of the most recent kill order. Under the state wildlife agency’s management, Oregon’s wolf population has dropped from 21 to 14 this year due to lethal control, poaching, dispersal and the accidental death of a young female after Fish and Wildlife staff fit her with a radio collar.
Some of the groups involved in today’s lawsuit had originally supported the management plan as a compromise because it required landowners to adopt nonlethal measures before lethal control could be carried out. The groups, however, have become increasingly frustrated by the wildlife agency’s willingness to shoot wolves in response to political pressure from powerful livestock industry interests, including the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.
As the above excerpt from an October 2011 Center for Biological Diversity press release points out, the Oregon Wolf Plan permits killing of wolves as a last resort. Which is as it should be. Wolves still are an endangered species under Oregon law. They are highly beneficial to ecosystems.
And they barely affect the bottom-line of ranchers.
To keep this in perspective, consider some of the stats: In 2011, wolves killed 25 cows, while 55,000 were lost to weather, disease and thieves in 2010. In the rare instances in which livestock are lost to wolves, ranchers are reimbursed at fair market value by Oregon taxpayers.
So there's no need for HB 4158. It's a solution in search of a problem. The Oregon Court of Appeals has put a stay on the planned killing of wolves, persuaded by clear-headed environmental groups that conserving wolves under the state endangered species act isn't fostered by killing them.
HB 4158, in a marvelous display of double-speak, says that notwithstanding all that endangered species stuff in state law, "the conservation of wolves in Oregon may include the killing of wolves to address the depredation of livestock by wolves."
Kill them to protect them. These ranchers sound like wife-abusers: "Honey, I'm hitting you because I love you so much."
Again, if a wolf, or wolves, can't be stopped from killing cattle after preventive measures have been seriously attempted, my understanding is that the Oregon Wolf Plan already allows for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to shoot them under special rare circumstances.
But ranchers basically want a "shoot on sight" rule. Not all, thankfully, but enough of them to cause the Oregon Cattlemen's Association to sponsor HB 4158. To them the only good wolf is a dead wolf. Well, like I said, those ranchers need to get some therapy.
As Oregon Wild says, "Wolves have been vilified." For no good reason.
With wolves, old myths die hard and antiquated ideologies persist. It’s taken us 50 years to shift our mind-set from extermination to tenuous acceptance, and it will likely take another 50 years for Oregonians from all backgrounds to embrace the return of wolves. In the meantime, we should all remember that wolves are just another animal trying to make their home in Oregon.