A Collaborative Solution to Wolf Management in Oregon

Two state senators in Oregon share their experience reaching across the aisle to find common ground on the tricky area of wolf management.

by former State Senator Jackie Dingfelder  (D-Portland)

Jackie DingfelderAs I reflect back on my many years in the Oregon Legislature, I observed that natural resource issues were often some of the most contentious ones debated in our state capitol. Oregon’s identity remains, in many ways, tied to its natural resources.  As chair of the House and Senate Environment Committee, few bills came before my committee with strong bipartisan support.  Fortunately, we were able to buck that trend this past session when Sen. Bill Hansell (SD-29) and I co-sponsored a bill to find a bipartisan solution to a long standing dispute about wolf management in Oregon

After reintroduction to Idaho and Yellowstone in the mid-1990’s, wolves began naturally migrating back to Oregon in 1999, some fifty years after the last known wolf was extirpated through a system of bounties and intentional removal.  This first arrival was politically unwelcome and was deported, but as more wolves followed, the State realized it needed to be proactive and plan for the inevitable.  The State’s Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted Oregon’s first ever Oregon Wolf Plan in 2005, after the largest public input process in the State’s history.  The Plan sets recovery goals ensuring wolves will have a place here and also provides management assurances to address reasonable protections for livestock and other interests.  What followed was a period of growth for wolf packs and a period of conflict around one pack in particular, the Imnaha Pack of Wallowa County.

By the time I met Senator Hansell, five packs had established in northeast Oregon, and the Imnaha Pack had been confirmed to have killed or injured well over twenty domestic cattle within a home range that mixed wild lands and working ranches.  Tensions were rising, including pro- and anti-wolf billboards, threatening letters and phone calls between interest groups, and ongoing litigation that had nullified the State’s authority to lethally remove wolves to address livestock losses. When Senator Bill Hansell joined the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Committee in February 2013, we sat down to discuss the issues of importance to our respective districts.  Sen. Hansell raised the wolf management issue as a key concern and invited me on a fact finding trip to Eastern Oregon to learn more. During three chilly days in early April 2013—with Senator Hansell in his Oregon Ducks snow cap and me in my Patagonia puff-down jacket—we met with the Tribes, livestock producers, wolf advocates, local elected officials, and citizens in Umatilla and Wallowa counties to hear first hand their concerns and viewpoints about wolf management.  Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Governor’s office accompanied us on the trip.

After hearing concerns from both livestock producers and wolf advocates, Sen. Hansell and I vowed to work closely with the Governor’s office staff to advocate for wolf management policies that both sides could support.  This mutual commitment to work across party lines was key to ensuring success.  After many months of negotiations, both sides worked out a litigation settlement involving agreed-upon administrative rules and legislation, in part because of the pressure from the Legislature, and the good work of the Governor’s office staff.  Senator Hansell and I, along with Representative Bob Jenson of Pendleton, worked closely to move the landmark legislation forward.  After much marveling that common ground had been reached on this particular issue, and that a Portland democrat and rural eastern Oregon republicans were working together to carry it, the bill garnered unanimous support in both the House and Senate.

While I have many years of working on natural resource issues around the state, trips like my visit to Wallowa County remind me of how decisions we make in Salem, regardless of where we are from, impact a wide range of Oregonians. Sen. Hansell and I are both American Leadership Forum graduates and know the importance of finding a collaborative solution.  We are proud to have helped forged a bipartisan solution to one of Oregon’s “toothier” issues.

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by State Senator Bill Hansell (R-Pendleton)

Bill HansellDuring my 2013 campaign for the Oregon State Senate District 29, one of the issues for much of the district was wolf livestock predation.  This issue became a legislative priority for me.  After being elected, two things happened that proved to be very important in addressing this issue.

First was my appointment to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.  My Senate District stretches from the Snake River to rural Wasco County, including the six counties in between.  Natural resources provide the economic base for this part of the state.  Secondly, I had the opportunity to meet and work with Senator Jackie Dingfelder, the chair of this committee.

Senator Dingfelder reached out to me as soon as I became a member of her committee.  In true ALF fashion, she reached across the aisle to the Republican freshman from Athena, Oregon.  A friendship began that continues to this day.

When she asked me what priorities I might have I told her the wolf issue was critical for my district.  District 29 contains almost all of the packs in Oregon, and we needed a state policy that would work.

As the session began in early February, it became apparent to me that the probability of any kind of wolf legislation would be very remote.  No one with whom I visited gave it much of a chance.  But in true ALF fashion I wasn’t willing to give up. I reached out to my colleague from Portland, as she had done to me, and invited her to come to Wallowa County to see firsthand what was happening on the ground.

I was delighted when Jackie said I would love to make a trip as long as we did it together. In mid-April after spending a Friday night in our home in Athena, we spent much of the weekend in Wallowa County.

We saw some of the most beautiful country in Oregon; visited with some of the nicest people on both sides of the issue; and were hosted by some of the kindest individuals anywhere.  In addition we were also able to look at some other issues in the area, such as water and the Wallowa Lake Dam.

When we returned to Salem, the legislative wheels started moving.  Within a couple of months a court case was settled, and legislation was drafted.  It then worked its way through the legislative process.  I happened to mention to one of the veteran Senators that I thought we would be able to get a wolf bill passed, his reply was “Senator I’ll believe it when I see it” Well he eventually saw it.

Senator Dingfelder and I testified together at every opportunity, and when the bill came to the Senate floor, I gave the opening argument, and Jackie closed.  It passed 30-0 in the Senate.

Both of us were able to put our ALF experience into practice. We worked together across all sorts of potential differences, for the good of Oregon. I was honored to work with Senator Dingfelder, and call her not only a respected colleague, but valued friend as well.

A brief conversation with Jackie, I shall never forget occurred when, I thanked her for taking time out of her busy schedule to come to my district for a weekend.  Jackie’s response was “No one had ever invited me before, I was excited to come.”

How sad it is in this day of such partisan politics, that we don’t reach out to others and invite them to help find a solution together.  A major highlight of my first year in the Oregon Senate, was crafting a wolf bill with Senator Dingfelder.  We led a team that was very helpful including Rep. Bob Jenson, the Governor’s office, ODF&W, and the Oregon Cattleman Association.  Good public policy, which was good for all concerned, including the wolf, was signed into law due to the collaborative work of two ALF alumni.  This successful effort is, to me, what ALF’s mission is all about, and I was proud to have been a part of it.

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