EUGENE, Ore.-- A local conservation group is suing the federal government after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the endangered species list.
Officials in the federal government justified the removal by citing large numbers of gray wolves living in the Great Lakes region of the country. Even though data shows more than 4,000 living in that part of the country, only 158 live in Oregon.
Nick Cady, legal director at Cascadia Wildlands, said this should show the federal government, the gray wolf population is far from being recovered.
"One of their main arguments and this is kind of one of the laughable ones, they argue wolves weren't even a species that could be protected under the act," Cady said.
Gray wolves almost went extinct in the early 20th century after years of poaching and poisoning. Over the past two decades, the wolf population in North America has slowly recovered. However, Cady said they still have a long way to go.
He said gray wolves are keystone predators that help balance an ecosystem. For example, he said there's evidence in Wyoming of gray wolves improving waterways. Wolves use the waterways to hunt, keeping much of their prey away from the shoreline.
As a result, more vegetation can grow, creating more shade and cooling down the water. Cady said there is data showing fish populations are becoming healthier because of this.
"These keystone species have a huge rippling effect on entire ecosystems," Cady said. "It's going to be important not just for conservation values, but important for commercial fishing industries and a lot of other businesses as well."
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife said under current rules, ranchers can only shoot a wolf if it is caught in the act of biting, wounding or killing livestock on their property. A few ranchers can shoot wolves for chasing livestock, but only if they are in the area of the Rogue Pack that has depredated livestock multiple times. For more information, click here.
ODFW said only three wolves caught in the act of harming livestock have been killed.
Wolves remain protected in Oregon under the state's Wolf Management Plan.