June 16, 2015 – by Dominic Aiello, President
The Oregon Outdoor Council is more than a little concerned about the recent wolf article published by the Oregonian, Wolf allies, foes prep for battle as Oregon reconsiders endangered status. We believe the article (purposefully or otherwise) incorrectly leads readers to believe that Oregon has an overpopulation of ungulates and that an expanded wolf population will solve this non-existent problem.
Issue #1: The claim that Oregon’s ungulates are causing harm to the landscape. In the article it states,
“Scientists call it a trophic cascade.
‘The predators affect the prey, which affect the plants,’ Ripple said. ‘Therefore, the predators indirectly help the plants.’
Researchers aren’t sure how many wolves Oregon would need to achieve those benefits.”
For reader clarity, the definition of a trophic cascade is, Trophic cascades occur when predators limit the density and/or behavior of their prey and thereby enhance survival of the next lower trophic level.
Sadly, the truth is, Oregon’s ungulates have been in severe and steady decline for decades. According to Ron Anglin, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Wildlife Administrator, in 1979 the blacktail deer population was estimated at 450,000 and as of 2012 is estimated at 300,000, a 33% decline. Many experts would argue that this estimate is far too conservative as the blacktail deer population in Oregon has been hit hard by disease (along with many other factors), specifically Hair Loss Syndrome (HLS). Data from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) shows that their deer herds declined by as much as 50% following the introduction of HLS.
“Aerial surveys and harvest statistics suggest that the deer population in Yakima and Kittitas counties has declined by about 50% since the arrival of the lice.”
This population decline is not limited to blacktail deer. Oregon’s mule deer population is also far below ODFW’s management objective. ODFW currently estimates the mule deer population at 216,000 animals. Their management objective for mule deer is 347,300, which means our current mule deer population is 38% below a healthy and sustainable level.
Will an expanded Oregon wolf population further reduce the deer population? We believe based on the data from several other states that the answer is a resounding yes! Does this mean that without an expanded wolf population that Oregon’s landscape is being harmed by deer? The data leads to a clear answer – no.
Issue #2: The claim that our [sportsmen’s and women’s] concern is that “Having fewer deer and elk makes their sport more difficult.”
With Oregon’s already drastically declining ungulate populations, the article’s claim that we’re simply concerned that hunting will become more difficult seems intentionally deceptive. There are many examples of severe reduction of hunting tags due to the impacts of wolves, and in some cases the elimination of hunting seasons.
As noted recently in a letter to Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, world-renowned biologists and wolf experts David Mech and Pat Valkenburg were quoted as having documented such instances.
In 2014, Minnesota was forced to eliminate their moose season due a sharp decline in the population. The world-renowned wolf expert David Mech attributed the decline to wolf predation. “My data tends to indicate the problem was there were more wolves,” Mech told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2014.
The Lolo elk herd in Idaho has declined from 16,000 to less than 2,000 today. The majority of experts have concluded that the wolf, in part, caused the decline and is preventing the elk from recovering. Even a retired biologist and pro-wolf organization leader agrees, “Certainly wolves are causing this decline to linger longer” said on the Cascadia Wildlands’ blog in 2014.
In Alaska, Pat Valkenburg has worked as a Caribou Research Biologist, Research Coordinator, and Deputy Commissioner for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for over 30 years. He has documented the significant impact wolves have, noting “wolf and bear predation has caused a further decline and prevented recovery. On Unimak now, we predict the caribou herd will disappear, largely because of wolf predation,” Valkenburg said at a wildlife symposium in Oregon in 2014.
Will Oregon deer herds be the next Unimak caribou herd or the next Minnesota moose herd? The data paints an extremely clear and concerning picture:
Combine the existing issues facing Oregon’s ungulate population with an expanding wolf population and we could be facing an elimination of a lifestyle, which goes far beyond simply making the sport (lifestyle) “more difficult.” Additionally, as conservation is overwhelming funded by sportsmen and women, an expanded wolf population and further decreased ungulate population will only further exacerbate ODFW’s budget crisis (including funding for wolf management)!
Oregon’s ungulates, sportsmen, and sportswomen cannot sustain an unmanaged wolf population. We must stick to the wolf management plan (agreed to by environmentalists and sportsmen groups) and move to delist the wolf in Oregon.