Wolf backers sue over status change - Lack of management plan in Oregon cited among factors
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Seeing Oregon as the next battleground over the spread of the gray wolf, environmental groups chose Portland for filing a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the federal government's decision to downgrade Endangered Species Act protection for the predator.
Among the factors are that wolves introduced in Idaho have migrated into Oregon, though there have been no confirmed sightings since 2001, and the state is still working on its plan for managing wolves that will take the place of federal regulations, environmentalists said.
"It was a strategic decision made by our counsel," said Rob Edward of Sinapu, a group in Boulder, Colo., working to restore wolves to the southern Rocky Mountains. "The fact that the state does not have a management plan in place that will ensure the long-term conservation of the species of wolves is trouble."
Nina Fascione, vice president of species conservation for Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C., said Oregon will be one of the first states affected by changing wolves from an endangered to a threatened species, which loosens restrictions on killing them to protect livestock.
"Oregon has the habitat, the prey, and frankly has the majority of public support," she said. "It's a great state to serve as an exemplar in this federal-state nexus in wolf management."
Environmentalists are afraid that the current federal policy will mean wolves won't be restored throughout their historic range in the Pacific Northwest, the southern Rockies and the Northeast, which could double their numbers, Fascione said. About 3,500 of the 4,000 wolves in the lower 48 states are in the Great Lakes states.
"Wolves are coming into Oregon on their own," said Anne Mahle, a Minneapolis attorney handling the lawsuit. "The issue is once they get there, they need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act."
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland asks a judge to find that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it changed the gray wolf from an endangered to a threatened species April 1.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Fish and Wildlife's decision ignored the fact that several states with the wolf's historic range still don't have any wolves. It also says the decision was not based on the best scientific and commercial information, and failed to recognize that hunting and habitat destruction would resume once endangered species protection was lifted.
"We want the court to send the wolf plan back to the Fish and Wildlife Service and tell them to start over," Edward said.
Fish and Wildlife spokesman Nicholas Throckmorton said the agency had not seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.
Citing the success of restoring wolf packs in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho, Fish and Wildlife on April 1 downgraded most gray wolf populations in the lower 48 states from endangered to threatened. The agency said management of wolves would eventually be turned over to the states.
While federal regulations allow ranchers to shoot a wolf attacking livestock or pets on private land, Oregon law does not. Federal rules also allow ranchers to obtain permits to shoot wolves that go after livestock on public land, but Oregon law does not.
Former Oregon Cattlemen's Association President Sharon Beck has said she would stand firm against allowing wolves into Oregon as she serves on a task force developing a state management plan.
"The losses to individual ranchers who have to live with these wolves can be devastating to a small cow operator," said Bill Drewien, a Medford rancher who is chairman of the endangered species committee for the Oregon Cattlemen's Association. "They haven't really worked out the problems in addressing cattle-wolf conflicts."
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