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Commission moved too fast to delist gray wolf

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission's vote Monday to remove the gray wolf from the state's endangered species list seems premature, especially given the short time since wolves reappeared in the state and the contrast with other protected species.

Oregon's wolf management plan called for maintaining four breeding pairs of wolves in the state for three consecutive years in Phase II, and at least seven breeding pairs for three years in Phase III. After Phase III was complete, the species would be delisted under the plan.

Phase II was completed less than a year ago, and Phase III is not yet complete, but the commission chose to delist the wolf anyway. Wildlife advocates had urged the commission to reduce the listing from endangered to threatened, but the vote delisted the wolf entirely.

Eastern Oregon has maintained four breeding pairs of wolves, meeting the criteria for delisting in that part of the state, and congressional action has removed wolves in the east from the federal Endangered Species List, but the animal remains on the federal endangered list in Western Oregon.

Meanwhile, the northern spotted owl, the subject of much controversy for its role in restricting logging in the owl's old-growth forest habitat, remains listed as threatened. And yet there are an estimated 1,200 pairs of spotted owls in Oregon alone. The known gray wolf population stands at 81 individuals, most of those in the northeastern part of the state.

The number of breeding pairs hasn't reached double digits, and there are no wolves at all in much of Western Oregon. OR-7, our local celebrity wolf, and his mate have produced cubs, but that is barely a toenail-hold on recovery for a species that was absent from the state for many years.

The commission vote doesn't mean the wolves won't survive. State biologists recommended delisting, saying the species is not in danger of dying out. But it's hard to understand the hurry to declare the species out of danger.