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Restore wolf protections.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Environmental and animal rights groups filed a lawsuit Monday seeking a reversal of the federal government's premature decision to drop protections for gray wolves in northern Rocky Mountain states, a move that has needlessly put at risk the prospects for the predator's revival in Oregon.

Wolves once were bountiful throughout the West, where an estimated 350,000 preyed on bison, elk, deer and other animals before the arrival of white settlers. As wild game became more scarce, wolves turned their predatory gaze to livestock, earning the deadly enmity of ranchers and farmers.

In Oregon, state wildlife officials were so intent on eliminating the animals that they were paying bounties to wolf hunters into the 1930s after most already had been killed off.

After wolves received protection from the Endangered Species Act in 1973, their numbers gradually increased under a federal recovery plan. Officials seeded central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park with 66 wolves in the mid-1990s. Since then their population has grown to an estimated 1,500 - half the number many scientists believe is needed for a genetically diverse population capable of long-term recovery.

Against the advice of many wildlife experts, the federal government lifted federal protections last month and put wolves under state control in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming for the first time in three decades.

All three states plan public hunts in the fall, but the switch to state management already is taking a toll. Wyoming has enacted a "kill on sight predator" law in 90 percent of the state, and Idaho citizens can legally kill wolves without permits whenever they are disturbing or "worry-ing" livestock or other domestic animals. More than three dozen wolves have been killed in the past month.

As part of their lawsuit, the conservation groups are seeking an immediate court order to restore federal control until the case is resolved. The court should grant this request, since relaxed state management could swiftly reduce the wolf population to its federally set minimum of 300 for the region.

The federal delisting was a setback for recovery efforts in Oregon, where the state's management plan calls for gradual reintroduction of wolves, with a goal of four breeding pairs in both the western and eastern parts of the state.

In recent years there have been only scattered sightings - enough to overcome skepticism that Idaho wolves would swim the Snake River and cross into this state, but not enough to establish the critical mass required for legitimate biological recovery. If allowed to continue, the wolf kills will greatly reduce the chances that wolves will ever move west into Oregon.

Environmentalists are justified in seeking the protection of a predator that studies have shown has a profound balancing effect on the ecosystem, suppressing other predators such as cougars and coyotes, and strengthening deer and elk herds.

The court should immediately grant the request for an injunction and, as soon as possible, return wolves to the federal regulatory environment that has allowed their still incomplete recovery.
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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 29, 2008
Previous Article:Bring on Oregon debates.

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