Wednesday's public hearing, which featured ranchers telling frightening tales of their encounters with wolves, included testimony from 20 people. Legislators preparing to vote on new wolf controls should consider this: Twenty thousand people commented during the recent long review of Oregon's wolf plan.
The point is that Oregon already has a fair and responsible plan to manage the few dozen wolves that have trickled into the state from Idaho. It doesn't need legislators to self-appoint themselves as wildlife managers and decide, after a couple of hours of testimony, to do an end run around a wolf plan supported by an overwhelming majority of Oregonians.
The Legislature does have a role here, though, and that's to help make the state wolf plan a success. The plan lacks a compensation system for ranchers who have documented losses of sheep, cattle or other livestock. Private compensation offered by the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife expires in Oregon this fall. If lawmakers want to play a constructive role in the discussion over wolves, they should devote their time to fashioning a strong compensation system for wolf depredation. As we've said many times, the burden of wolf recovery should be shared by all Oregonians, not loaded onto the ranching community.
What isn't constructive, however, is the pursuit of legislation that exaggerates the threat of returning wolves and ignores both the will of the majority of Oregonians and the public process that has led to the state plan. Bills that would authorize killing wolves, stripping them of endangered species protections or cutting the population objective to four breeding pairs are flat-out incompatible with that plan.
The Oregon Cattleman's Association, which is leading the charge in Salem to gut the wolf plan, continually claims the ranchers they represent are only asking for "tools" to protect their livestock and livelihoods. In fact, Oregon's existing wolf plan already has many of those tools. In 2009, two wolves that preyed on livestock were tracked and killed by government agents. The issue is who gets to use these tools -- to do the shooting. Oregonians are fine with the removal of problem wolves; they are not fine with declaring what would be, in effect, open season on wolves.
As wildlife managers, legislators have a dubious record. Look at the time and energy they've wasted trying to reverse a public vote on another predator, the cougar. Lawmakers are inviting a similarly bitter annual dispute in Salem on wolves. The right answer is to craft a compensation program and respect the long public process that has resulted in the Oregon wolf plan.