Conservation groups sue feds (Wildlife Services) on Federal Wolf Management Actions in Oregon

Groups argue federal animal killing agency has no business killing 2 of the 13 known wolves in Oregon-

Revenge wolf killing threatens to make its way to Oregon.  In Idaho the attitude is of WS is “their are so many damn wolves who cares if we kill the wrong ones?” “We have lots of leeway to indulge our 16th century urges.”

Oregon is different with just a few wolves. The wolves responsible for killing the livestock have moved well away from the area. There is still a kill order for two of the pack.  Any two will do as long as they have no radio collars. Thus, it is simply revenge killing, not an attempt to solve a problem.

Here is the text of the suit.

Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Greg Dyson, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, (541) 963-3950 x 22
Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild, (503) 283-6343 x 210

Lawsuit Filed to Stop Federal, State-sanctioned Killing of Endangered Wolves

PORTLAND, Ore.­ Four conservation groups sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s predator control branch, Wildlife Services, today for its role in killing wolves at the behest of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). The state has issued, and now extended to Aug. 31, a permit to the federal agency to hunt, track and kill two wolves across a 70-square-mile area in eastern Oregon. According to the conservation groups’ lawsuit, Wildlife Services never conducted the environmental analysis required to disclose the impacts of killing a substantial portion of Oregon’s wolves. Cascadia Wildlands, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Oregon Wild and the national Center for Biological Diversity brought the suit, and are also strongly considering suing the state for its role in authorizing the kill permits.

“Oregon is big enough for people and wolves,” commented Greg Dyson with the La Grande-based group Hells Canyon Preservation Council. “ODFW is acting too hastily in giving Wildlife Services authority to shoot these wolves before exhausting other management options. We were left with no choice but to protect wolves in court.”

The kill order stems from recent livestock depredations by wolves in Wallowa County. In May and early June, six cattle deaths were confirmed as wolf depredations. For comparison, in 2005 ­ the year the wolf plan was created ­ domestic dogs killed 700 sheep and cows in Oregon, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. No new wolf depredations on livestock have occurred since June 4.

“Sixty years ago, we completed a sad chapter in our history by killing the last wolf in Oregon,” added Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands. “Today, we’re fighting in court to ensure that we do not repeat that history.”

According to the groups, Oregon’s wildlife agency is violating the wolf-management plan by issuing the kill permits when damage is not presently occurring, the wolves are not on the land where damage is occurring, and multiple carcass dump piles were left on ranch lands resulting in “unreasonable circumstances” that attract wolves to the area. Had Wildlife Services conducted the proper environmental analysis, the agency would have realized that wolves pose no current depredation threat and hunting them is inappropriate. The state’s wildlife department has also failed to document how efforts by ranchers to avoid depredations through nonlethal means were “deemed ineffective” or to document unsuccessful attempts to solve the situation through nonlethal means ­ both of which are requirements of the plan.

“Oregon’s struggling wolf population cannot sustain these killings,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Issuance of permits to kill these two wolves by the state of Oregon is exactly why wolves continue to need protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.”

A decision is expected soon in a separate lawsuit brought by a large coalition of conservation groups ­ including all the groups involved in today’s suit ­ seeking to restore federal protections to wolves under the Endangered Species Act. If protections are restored, the permits may be invalidated.

To date, Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s office has had little to say about the actions of his state’s wildlife agency. The governor’s Natural Resources Policy Director, Mike Carrier, stated publicly that the governor cannot respond to requests to remove the kill order.

“Is this what Governor Kulongoski wants his wildlife legacy to be?” asked Rob Klavins with Oregon Wild. “The governor who signed off on the first state-sanctioned illegal wolf kills in the state’s history?” [Rumor has it that Governor Kulongoski wants to retire to Baker County. A friend of the family owns the Geiser Grand Hotel. – Chris]

Oregon is currently home to a confirmed population of 14 wolves in two packs, both in northeast Oregon. The Imnaha pack of 10 is led by wolf B-300 [ ed. note: this wolf is missing and maybe dead]. Another pack of four wolves located in the Wenaha wildlife unit was caught on film for the first time earlier this spring. The Oregon wolf plan is currently undergoing a mandated five-year review process. Because the current population numbers fewer than 14 confirmed wolves, conservationists are working to fully fund the wolf plan and empower biologists to make decisions regarding the state-listed endangered species.



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  1. Ken Cole Avatar


    Wildlife Services spokeswoman Carol Bannerman said that by helping to confirm wolves are responsible for a particular livestock killing and removing the wolves responsible, it can help build acceptance of the return of wolves to an area.

    Judging by recent history in Idaho I say that’s bullshit.

    1. mikarooni Avatar

      Yep, their goal is to 1) find some way to confirm that all wolves are responsible for something, either now or in the future; 2) remove them all on the grounds that the only good indian, er, I mean wolf is a dead wolf; and 3) then acceptance will be built for the wolves remaining in the area, which will be none.

  2. Phil Maker Avatar
    Phil Maker

    I believe it’s B300’s mate that is missing, not B300.
    While ID and OR, in general, are not that closely matched politically/socially on these types of issues, ranchers in OR are no different than ranchers in ID, so building tolerance by killing wolves will get a lot of play (what else is WS going to say to justify their actions?).

    1. Taz Alago Avatar
      Taz Alago

      That’s right, it’s the alpha male who is missing, not B300.

      In ODFW comments last week, they said killing two wolves might teach the pack not to hunt stock. Well, that idea has no more credibility than the WS claim that killing wolves builds tolerance.

      By the way, verbal instructions from the ODFW to WS limit the killing to gray-colored wolves, not blacks.

  3. WM Avatar

    It would seem the state of OR is a necessary and indespensible party – it is their wolf management plan, their wildlife law enforcement, their residents/taxpayer livestock ranchers, and their role will increase as the OR wolf population does and their approved plan is implemented.

    One has to wonder what is stopping the plaintiffs from bringing them into the suit. Heck, maybe WS should bring them in as a co-defendant if the environmental groups do not. Maybe FWS should be a defendant as well.

    Whether a discrete (and arugably justified in OR/WS/FWS view) and time-sensitive lethal control action in Eastern OR, on outmigrating Idaho federally delisted wolves within the NRM DPS becomes a “MAJOR federal action” as envisioned under NEPA is the issue. These are not federally protected wolves under the ESA, but rather under the Oregon Endangered Species Act.

    It will be interesting to see what role the OR Dept of Wildlife played in the decision on the WS kill orders for the first two wolves, and the two that are at the heart of this suit. It could be this really is not a “federal action” if the state requested help, andin that sense WS didn’t make the lethal control decision (but is only providing the co-op federal resources as they do all across the country every day) let alone a MAJOR one.

    It would be a suprising precident to see a federal judge conclude that every decrete lethal control action WS conducts (ESA or state protected species) would be subject to an Environmental Assessment under NEPA, because that is where this suit seems logically to lead.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      A state might wish the federal government to build a harbor, spray insecticide over a wide area, or even import a new animal species and turn it loose. Despite a state’s wishes, the federal government has to perform environmental analysis by law before this can be done.

      Wildlife Services has never had to do environmental analysis on its wolf killing, not in Oregon nor or in Idaho. The Western Watersheds Project and the Wolf Recovery Foundation have a lawsuit underway in Idaho on that very issue.

    2. WM Avatar


      ++ Wildlife Services has never had to do environmental analysis on its wolf killing++

      Do they need to? Is it question of whether they are allowed to kill wolves at all, or the specific methods which may be employed and where? I don’t think I read the complaint in the WRF/WWP ID suit, but that seemed it was more oriented to whether WS could enter Wilderness with a helicopter, yes?

      The OR suit, as stated in the complaint, seems more oriented toward whether they can kill problem wolves at all without a NEPA review, given the status of few wolves actually in the state.

      But wasn’t the NEPA compliance met with the original EIS for NRM Wolf Reintroduction in 1994? The need to control problem wolves including lethal action was front and center in the EIS. Very hard to ignore. Then there has been the entire delisting and relisting, back and forth, which has clearly called forth the depredation issue and FWS’s manner of dealing with it. Is WS even mentioned in the delistin rules or the backgrounds to the rules?

      There is a pretty strong argument that WS is only an “agent” doing the will of FWS or individual states by providing technical services. They are not making the policy decisions. That seems key.

      NOTE: Can anyone advise whether WS takes wolves without the specific direction to do so from either FWS or a state which is acting in a management capacity recognized under the ESA and implementing regulations?

      If WS acts outside its authority, say shooting wolves against the wishes of its principals, that would certainly be another matter.

      And, again the threshold question for the federal government is whether any descrete control action of WS is a “major federal action.” If FWS or a state which has been through its appropriate environmental review says to WS carry out a ministerial act – kill these two (or 12) problem wolves in this area of the state because they have been committing chronic livestock depredation, is that a “major” action as contemplated under NEPA? And is it, in fact, an action (a policy decision) under NEPA which WS is carrying out? I think it is plausible their role is solely ministerial, and nothing more.

      Here is an analogy. The Forest Service is responsible for small dams on tributaries all across the West. Many were put in at FS direction with help of the CCC in the 1930’s for conservation purposes. The dams have become safety hazards, block fish migration, and may have completely silted in. FS says they want to take out a particular dam. The process is definitely covered by NEPA and an EIS is prepared setting out the action – take out the dam and do it in this way. After full public review, the EIS is approved and FS contracts with whomever to do the work – say the Army Corps of Engineers with a reserve unit that has the equipment and manpower. Does the Corps then have to do a follow up EIS for their contemplated scope of work before they take the dam out? I think not. They are engaged in a ministerial act, and are acting under the authority of the FS to do the job they have contracted for under an inter-agency agreement.

      I guess we will find out as the OR and ID suits go forward.

    3. mikarooni Avatar

      Ralph’s comment is dead on. I’ve never been able to get APHIS to give me straight information on anything, particularly not any pending NEPA analysis. They’re always faking it and daring you to spend enough money or time on winning against them in court. They have total disrespect for the law and simply lie, stall, obfuscate in any way necessary, for as long as it takes to wait you out or make you eat your funds.

    4. Phil Maker Avatar
      Phil Maker

      Theoretically WS operates only at the behest of the managing agency/entity; ie. WS makes no decisions regarding where and when wolves will be controlled. WS, in ID, is currently preparing an Environmental Analysis regarding their future role in wolf management/control.

    5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Thank you Phil Maker,

      I had heard some environmental analysis was in the wind. I suppose it might in response to our lawsuit.


      No the lawsuit was not just on the Frank Church helicopter darting. This is a much larger portion of it about Wildlife Services killing wolves in the SNRA

  4. Ryan Avatar

    There have been numerous livestock predations in O0regon so far with limited, if any wolf removal. If there isn’t a couple taken legally, there will be no where near 14 wolves in OR by years end.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      What’s your basis for saying that? Vigilantism?

      That threat has been ongoing since the reintroduction.

    2. william huard Avatar
      william huard

      It’s what conservatives do when they don’t get their way- threaten to poach or threaten to gather their armies! It’s all the same- no respect for the law

    3. Ryan Avatar

      So far, besides this pack… Almost every wolf that was known about in Oregon post reintroduction was killed. They’ll kill em all over there, the east side of the state is alot more like Idaho, and as a general rule they resent being associated with people from Portland and Eugene. This lawsuit represents the dislike many rural oregonians already feel towards the urbanites politics that control their state. More will show up missing and having the air let out em.

    4. Rusty Avatar

      Yeah. More of the “if the law doesn’t go our way we’ll just take care of it ourselves” mentality.

    5. Angela Avatar

      You did read the part about the rancher leaving piles of carcasses on his property that were attracting the wolves, right Ryan?

      Maybe there could be a hefty reward for those citizens who take the law into their own hands so that we can make an example of one or two poachers.

    6. Ryan Avatar


      If its in a press release from the plaintiffs, it has to be true..

  5. Taz Alago Avatar
    Taz Alago

    WM – In Oregon so far, WS has been taking its orders from the ODFW, period.

    A parallel suit against the ODFW may be filed by the same outfits as in the WS suit, so the people of Oregon will be involved. The complaint would be that the ODFW violated the spirit and intent of the OWP.

    1. WM Avatar


      I suspected WS was taking their orders directly from ODFW, but was not sure, but it is not clear from the complaint.

      By parallel suit, do you mean filing in state court? If so, it may wind up in federal court anyway, if wolves go back on the ESA list.

      I took a quick look at the 2005 OWP, which includes ODFW/WS take of wolves involved in “chronic livstock depredation.” [p.40-46] even during the early Phase I period (0-4 breeding pairs). The conditions seem pretty broad.

      Whether any individual wolves, packs or portions of packs are involved in depredation incidents will be a question of fact. And, of course, the legal administrative standard would be some sort of “abuse of of discretion,” which gives an agency alot of wiggle room. In addition, the plan seems to do a pretty thorough job of laying out qualifiers that put wolves in the context of administration of the states resources, which does not exclude private livestock.

      I personally believe the NEPA suit is a really stupid idea, period, as I tried to state tactfully above.

      And as for a state suit based on deviating from what some think the plan is, it will likely generate discussion about amendments to give the agency more flexibility even during Phase I. ODFW staff will just go to the Commission, say we need more flexibiity, they will hold a hearing, the Commission will adopt a change and it will likely be back to what they are attempting to do now (or,maybe, WORSE).


      I think Ryan is correct.

      It is the “perception” that those who are most affected in the pocketbook – livestock owners- feel like they have some say and are being listened to as the repopulation occurs. The numbers of wolves on the landscape will grow more slowly, but there will be an appearance of some “accountability” toward the ones that get in trouble. As distasteful as some find it to be, it will be more palatable for those initially more affected by the presence of wolves.

      The alternative, in my view, for example the “perception” of doing nothing to control depredating wolves (cumbersome administrative process NEPA/SEPA/ narrow interpretation of the OWP, will give those who feel their government is doing nothing while they take the hit, will give them exactly the excuse they want for “self-help.” Call it that, 3s, vigianitism, whatever, and in Eastern OR it will be carried out as in ID, MT or WY.

  6. jerryBlack Avatar

    NOTE:” Can anyone advise whether WS takes wolves without the specific direction to do so from either FWS or a state which is acting in a management capacity recognized under the ESA and implementing regulations?”

    Wildlife Services does NOT have to consult with MFWP or anyone else for permission to take out any # of wolves. All they need is a phone call from the rancher. There’s no second opinion or oversight…
    This came to be about a month ago at a hearing in Helena before the Environmental Quality Committee. MFWP presented its new guidelines before the committee and over 100 cowboys and hunters. But hey…. 3 of us testified on behalf of the wolves.
    Maybe with a little support from conservation groups, things could have been different.
    Not ONE “conservation” group showed up for the hearing.
    The Western Wolf Coalition and Defenders when asked about their absence responded that “they were busy”
    When asked why they didn’t notify their membership so they could be there to testify, the response from their attorney was….”we didn’t feel it was appropriate”.
    OK, all you coalition collaborators , consensus builders or what ever the hell you masquerade as….go ahead and attack me, but your “coalition” has let the wolves down here in Montana.. and I’ve been at numerous hearings and meetings to verify that fact……..WHERE WERE YOU???

    1. Taz Alago Avatar
      Taz Alago

      Jerry has a good point. Anybody have anything to say in defense of the “wolf defenders?’”

  7. Taz Alago Avatar
    Taz Alago

    Well, amazingly enough the immediate reaction to the suit by WS is to suspend the lethal control action until 7/30.

    1. mikarooni Avatar

      that long? Shoot, isn’t that all the way ’til the end of the month?

  8. JB Avatar

    The notion that allowing interested rural residents to kill large carnivores builds “tolerance” or “acceptance” is essentially untested; however, the parallel idea that compensating ranchers builds tolerance is unsupported in the research literature. Still, as the folks at Defenders recognized early on, one has to first win the war of public opinion, and ranchers (to most Americans, present company excluded) are a very sympathetic group. The combination of (a) compensating ranchers for lost livestock and (b) killing the “offending” animal takes all of the wind out of opponents sails, so to speak. It was and is brilliant public relations, even if it is unsuccessful at winning the “hearts and minds” of the rural community. However, while it works well as a PR tool for promoting and conserving wolves in “wild” places, it may be problematic for recovering them in areas where conflicts are more likely.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan