Oregon panel approves 'last resort' rule to govern the killing of wolves

Deal requires documentation of nonlethal steps

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GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday adopted provisions of a lawsuit settlement that will make Oregon the only state in the West where killing wolves that attack livestock is a last resort.

The rules adopted by the commission amend Oregon's Wolf Management Plan, along with statutory provisions enacted by the Legislature that will be signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The rules require ranchers to show they have taken nonlethal steps, such as alarm boxes and low strings of fluttering plastic flags known as fladdery, to protect their herds before the state will send out a hunter to kill a wolf. There must also be hard evidence, such as GPS data showing a radio-collared wolf was in the area when a cow was killed, that wolves have attacked four times.

In return, ranchers get new rights to shoot wolves that they see attacking their herd, but only if those nonlethal protections are in place, and attacks have become chronic.

The settlement represents a new level of cooperation between conservation groups and ranchers, who have long fought over restoring wolves in the West, where they were wiped out by bounty hunters in the early part of the 20th century.

Ranchers downplayed the significance of the settlement.

"I don't think it's a whole lot different from the wolf plan already being implemented," said Kate Teisl, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association. "Now there's just more documentation. Ranchers are out there doing all they can to keep their animals alive, including the nonlethal measures."

But wolf advocates said it was that documentation of nonlethal steps that was groundbreaking.

Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild said the old plan talked about conservation of wolves being a priority, but it was so ambiguous that it was ineffective.

"It's now up to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the livestock industry, and the conservation community to honor the agreements that we have made," he said. "If we do so, I am optimistic we will continue to see conflicts between wolves and livestock continue to be rare, and the need to kill wolves even rarer still."

Brett Brownscombe, natural resources adviser to the governor, said making the rules clear was important as Oregon's wolf population continues to grow, and the Obama administration moves toward lifting federal protections for wolves in areas they have yet to repopulate.