The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission today could decide whether to move forward on removing wolves from the state endangered species list.

Fish and Wildlife Department staff are set to present an update on the gray wolf’s recovery in Oregon, and they could leave the meeting with directions to move forward on a process to keep the wolf listed, remove protections statewide, or remove protections in the eastern part of the state where most of Oregon’s wolves roam.

It’s also possible commissioners won’t provide any direction.

They’re likely to listen to hours of public testimony before considering the next step in a process that began early this year, when wolves reached a population milestone that triggered a review of their protected status.

Oregon was once home to a large wolf population, but the predators were eradicated from the state in the mid-20th century against a backdrop of state-sponsored bounty hunting.

Oregon’s gray wolf population has grown to 85 known wolves in the seven years since the animals for reestablished themselves in Oregon. The state’s wolf plan allows a review of state protections once the wolf population tops four breeding pairs for three straight years.

The commission will make its decision under immense pressure from groups on both sides of the debate.

Eastern Oregon ranchers have clamored for a delisting for years, with some arguing Oregon should have no wolves. The predators pose a threat to their livestock, ranchers say, and they want the ability to shoot them in defense of their herds.

It’s illegal to shoot a wolf in Oregon except under special circumstances.

Meanwhile, wildlife advocates argue 85 wolves in a state the size of Oregon does not constitute a healthy population. If the state removes protections, they argue, existing problems with poaching could grow worse.

The state has received thousands of public comments in matter, most in support of continued protections for Oregon’s wolves.

Whatever progress is made Friday, no final decision on the gray wolf’s fate will come for months. Any process to remove the wolf from the endangered species list would include a lengthy rulemaking period.

— Kelly House

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