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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wolf conservationists stay killing...

Grey Wolf
Image by Todd Ryburn via Flickr

by Brittany Lyons (Guest writer)

The timeless struggle between man and nature continued in the Oregon Court of Appeals last month. The court has decided on a temporary stay of the killing of two grey wolves blamed for the death of livestock in Wallowa County, Oregon. The proceedings illustrate the complexity of the arguments concerning the conservation of wild animals, which as been debated by environmentalists and students in PhD programsfor years. As the human population grows, how can the needs and interests of farmers, and of all those who benefit from their labors, be balanced with the need to protect the wonder and diversity of the natural world?

The case centers on two members of the Imnaha wolf pack (including the alpha male) who were involved in the killing of a calf in September. The incident brought the number of livestock killed by the pack in the last year and a half to 14. The wolves were slated to be killed following an order issued by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in September, but conservation groups challenged the decision. The groups argue the Oregon Wolf Management Plan, which states wolves that kill cattle can be destroyed, does not comply with the state’s Endangered Species Act. However, wolves are no longer protected in Eastern Oregon under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Although the wolves are no longer considered an endangered species in the area, the conservation group Oregon Wild points there a number of negative implications of the decision. First of all, the killings would reduce the pack to just two members, the alpha female and her young pup, making it unlikely that they would survive the winter. Secondly, Oregon Wildplaces the livestock deaths in perspective, stating that there are only 23 confirmed wolves in Oregon, yet there are more than 1.3 million cattle. Of those livestock, 55,000 were lost last year to weather, disease and thieves while fewer than 20 were lost to wolves. Additionally, when livestock are lost to wolves the rancher is compensated for the loss by provisions made by the legislature. Finally, Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Seattle Pisuch killings do nothing to save livestock. Greenwald claims, “There are much better non-lethal options, including fencing, guard dogs, and removing the carcasses that attract wolves in the first place.”

The Oregon Cattlemen's Association, counters that wolf numbers will grow at least 33 percent a year, causing the attacks on livestock and wildlife will double. Thus only complicating problems for cattlemen already facing the difficulties that have come with the current recession. The cattlemen also argue this particular wolf pack has been an ongoing problem. The Association's President Bill Hoyt declares: “They had confirmed kills on the same ranch over a period of time and by the same pack. The plan calls for after having multiple confirmed kills (sic), they will take lethal control. That’s what the plan says”. We didn’t like the plan to begin with. But we are learning to live with it. Now, all of a sudden we can’t even do that.”

Ultimately the Appeal Court determine that while nothing in the Endangered Species act prohibits the killing of wolves, there also is not anything to authorize such killing. As a result, the plan to prevent the killings of the two wolves has been stayed while the case is deliberated further.
Clearly the case demonstrates the complexities of weighing the needs of business and the rights of farmers to protect their livestock against the preservation of the natural world. Farmers are only doing what they have been doing for centuries, but then again, so are the wolves. As humans continue to expand into what was once the undisputed territory of animals such as the grey wolf, the debate is sure to continue. Add to that our insatiable demand for of meat and ever cheaper food, and the problem is only likely to grow. The issue is a complicated one, and an understanding of the debate prompts us to question our habits and the part that we all play in the future of animals such as the grey wolf.
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