GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Frustrated that a judge has blocked a state kill order on two members of Oregon's first wolf pack, the Oregon Cattlemen's Association is pushing legislation to boost the state's authority over the predators.
Conservation groups that sued the state to stop the order say the rancher bill is an effort to circumvent their lawsuit and the state Endangered Species Act, which the association's legislative chairman denied.
Bill Hoyt, of the Cattlemen Association, said the group would rather the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, not judges, make decisions about wolves.
"It is intended to make clear what ODFW has the power to do under what has been agreed upon in the Oregon wolf plan," said Hoyt, a Cottage Grove cattle rancher and past president of the association.
He added that the association wants to get some conservation groups on board, because without them the bill is unlikely to pass.
Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said by providing a loophole for killing wolves, the bill would create a precedent for getting around state protection for any species that gets in the way of logging, ranching, or development.
"It is designed essentially to nullify our litigation," he said. "The Endangered Species Act prohibits take of an endangered species. That includes the wolf. That's what our lawsuit is based on.
"What if other endangered species become unpopular or difficult to live with? Do you kill them, too?"
Conservation groups sued the state last fall after the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife issued an order to kill two members of the Imnaha pack, the original pack to form in Oregon from wolves moving in from Idaho and the only one blamed for livestock deaths.
Though conservation groups have not opposed other wolf kill orders, they sought to block this one because they believed the pack would likely die out with just the alpha female and a pup left.
The Oregon Court of Appeals stopped the kill order while it considers the case, a process expected to take six or eight months.
A state House committee was scheduled to hold a public hearing Tuesday on a separate bill that would create a tax credit to compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.
Meanwhile, the 2-year-old male wolf from the Imanha pack that has trekked more than 1,000 miles looking for a mate remained in northeastern California, where two women came across tracks in the snow that authorities say were probably left by OR-7.
Tanya Dronoff and Linda Hay of Susanville were driving down a dirt road through open rangeland in Lassen County when they spotted the tracks. They contacted Mark Stopher, a policy analyst at the California Department of Fish and Game, who confirmed that OR-7's tracking collar put him in the area at that time.
"We were just driving and I happened to glance down," said Hay. "I told Tanya, 'My gosh, there's a huge track.' We got out. My first thought was that it was a mountain lion, because it was big. We decided to go ahead and take pictures. I told Tanya, 'Maybe this could be Journey's track.'"
Journey was the winning entry in a wolf naming contest held by the conservation group Oregon Wild.
They followed the tracks about a mile along the road, until they met up with some smaller canine tracks. The snow was disturbed over a wider area, like there was a confrontation, but there was no blood or hair to indicate the wolf killed the other animal, Hay and Dronoff said.
"You get the macho cowboys who say, 'If I see him, I'm putting a slug in him,'" Hay said. "But the majority of people are for him, I think. It's just really exciting.
"I just want him to be safe, bless his little heart."
Since entering California on Dec. 28, the wolf known as Journey has traveled more than 470 miles, most recently doubling over his route from eastern to western Lassen County, Stopher said. There is no way to say whether he will return to Oregon.