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ODFW's wolf debate has got Oregon residents howling.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg / The Register-Guard

WOLVES - AND an alleged wolf in sheep's clothing - have produced surprising public outcries lately.

First, as far as anyone can prove, there is not a single wild wolf in Oregon.

Yet nearly 2,000 people took the time to attend one of 15 "wolf management" meetings the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted around the state recently. Another 1,400 people submitted written comments on what should be done about wolves.

The extent of the public response was amazing, when you consider that meetings on deer management typically attract a few dozen people - even though some 300,000 deer hunters in this state have a stake in the decisions being shaped by those meetings.

So why are more people concerned about the fate of animals we don't have than of one we do?

Everyone, of course, assumes that wolves will soon migrate into Oregon from Idaho, where they have been reintroduced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Also, wolves are both mysterious and romanticized. On the other hand, the damage they can cause is more serious than Bambi's haystack-raiding and rosebush-munching. So it's understandable that people on both sides of the issue want to "get involved."

Oregonians generated so many comments and questions on wolves that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has postponed taking any formal action.

That was originally scheduled to occur in February. At its January meeting, however, the commission said more time is needed because of the abundant questions raised at the town hall meetings.

"We're not in a position to say, `Go this direction,' ' commissioner Marla Rae of Salem said. "We still need more information. We have more work to do."

So the commission will receive a pair of staff reports but no public testimony at its Feb. 7 meeting. One report will provide "a thorough legal review of current laws related to wolf management." The other will summarize all the public comments received.

Craig Ely, who oversaw the "town hall" process, told the commission that the 1,600 statements and 400 questions submitted fell into "12 to 15 broad themes."

In the end, the key question will be: How much leeway will the federal government grant Oregon in dealing with a critter that is still protected by the Endangered Species Act?

THE ALLEGED WOLF in sheep's clothing label would apply to Bob McBride, the chief of police in the small south-coast town of Bandon.

McBride was charged in December with 10 misdemeanor violations of Oregon hunting laws. Among them are that he ran an unlicensed hunting-guide service and that he used trained hounds to hunt cougars, outlawed in Oregon since 1994.

The charges against McBride result from an undercover investigation in which two Oregon State Police officers posed as would-be poachers. Police affidavits filed in court say McBride took part in or freely discussed several wildlife violations.

After being booked into the Coos County Jail and then released, McBride told the Medford Mail Tribune newspaper that his only fault was his ignorance of wildlife laws.

"I had no clue I wasn't allowed to take those guys hunting," said McBride, who described himself to the Medford paper as being like "Andy of Mayberry," a reference to Andy Griffith's TV sitcom character.

He said he'll plead innocent at his Feb. 10 hearing.

The story of a police chief nailed in a poaching sting got even more interesting when townspeople reacted to the charges. Bandon's mayor said he and his fellow townspeople support McBride, their chief since 1998.

According to the Mail Tribune, Mayor Brian Vick criticized the state police for spending too much time and money on the effort to snare the chief.

"He clearly screwed up, in terms of not being aware of the game laws," Vick was quoted as saying. "(But) they've spent tens of thousands of dollars investigating this thing. It seems like tremendous overkill.

"I'm not going to call it an abuse of power. But that's as close as you can get to it. ... It's like they're not only trying to sully his reputation, but also go after his certification as a police officer."

Capt. Cynthia Kok, supervisor of the OSP's fish and wildlife special investigations unit, bristled at the mayor's criticism, the Medford paper reported.

Focusing on the cost of the investigation rather than on McBride's crimes misses the point, she said, that a police officer broke laws that he is responsible for following, just like everyone else that hunts or guides in Oregon.

The fact that the OSP spent "several thousand dollars" on the investigation "doesn't change the facts of what he did," Kok said. "Frankly ... I don't think you should put a price tag on what an investigation should or shouldn't cost."

Kok said McBride should not get "a free pass" simply because he's a well-liked cop in a small town.

In fact, she said, elected and appointed officials "are supposed to live their lives at a higher standard than the regular person on the street."

If convicted on all charges, McBride faces a fine of up to $5,000 and as much as nine years in jail.

Mike Stahlberg is the Register-Guard's outdoor writer. He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Jan 23, 2003
Previous Article:WSU takes depleted team to OSU.
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