GRANTS PASS — Conservation groups and cattle ranchers have agreed to a landmark settlement in a lawsuit that, for the past year and a half, has kept the state of Oregon from killing wolves that prey on livestock.
The agreement announced Friday by the governor’s office creates a new rule book for wolf management in Oregon that makes killing the ones that prey on cattle and sheep a last resort after nonlethal protections have been tried and livestock attacks have become chronic. It also gives ranchers greater authority to kill wolves that attack or chase their herds as long as certain conditions are met.
Brett Brownscombe, the governor’s natural-resources adviser, said the agreement will help bring peace to a longstanding and bitter conflict.
“Before, there had always been a lot of rhetoric about, ‘We can’t tolerate wolves here, and all this nonlethal stuff won’t work,’ ” Brownscombe said. “Now the reality is wolves are here, and we have to be able to protect our property through reasonable means. Nonlethal techniques are going to be part of the expected approach forward. People are going to have assurances that if there are problems, they will have some recourse and things won’t be stuck in the courts.”
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Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the state in October 2011 after the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a kill order for two wolves in the Imnaha Pack, the first pack to form in Oregon from wolves crossing the Snake River from Idaho, and the one blamed for more livestock kills than any other. The lawsuit claimed the kill order violated the state Endangered Species Act and would doom the pack.
Saying conservation groups were likely to win, the Oregon Court of Appeals barred the state from killing wolves until the lawsuit was resolved, making Oregon the only state with wolves where authorities could not kill those that preyed on livestock.
During the course of that court order, the numbers of wolves went up in Oregon, while the number of livestock killed went down. In neighboring Idaho, hunting brought down the numbers of wolves, but livestock attacks went up.
The Center for Biological Diversity dropped out of the settlement because it allowed wolves to be killed.
“This is going to become the most progressive management plan in the country for avoiding these conflicts before they happen,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild.
“If everybody stays true to the agreement, I think you will see lethal control very rarely,” said Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild.
Wallowa County cattle rancher Rod Childers, a longtime hard-liner on wolves and chairman of the wolf committee for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said the agreement formalizes standards that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had already been following.
He added that the numbers of wolf attacks had been rising in May, and cattlemen agreed to the settlement to bring back the ability of state biologists to manage wolves. Ranchers also get new authority to shoot wolves that chase their herds.
“This does not bring resolution to everybody,” he said.
The settlement was filed with the court Thursday night, Brownscombe said. The original kill order on the Imnaha Pack has been lifted, but if the pack is blamed for one more livestock attack, members of the pack will be eligible for a kill order under the new rules.
The new rules update a wolf-management plan adopted in 2005. Under the new rules, a pack would have to be linked by hard evidence to four separate attacks on livestock over six months before becoming eligible for lethal control.
For an attack to count, ranchers must have used basic nonlethal protections, such as alarm boxes and low strings of plastic flags known as fladdery. The state must conduct an open and thorough investigation.
Ranchers would get statutory authority to kill wolves attacking their livestock. They could shoot wolves seen chasing livestock if they have taken nonlethal steps to protect herds and they are the victims of chronic attacks.
The department has adopted a temporary rule putting the new lethal-control standards into effect, but they must still be adopted permanently by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, Brownscombe said.
The Legislature still has to enact a law to put the authority to kill wolves attacking and chasing herds into effect.