CANYON CITY - For a brief time, it looked as if Sheriff Glenn Palmer had found a strategy for keeping wolves out of Grant County: a 2003 county ordinance that termed them exotic animals.
Palmer told the Grant County Court at its Nov. 9 meeting he wanted to explore how the ordinance, which prohibited keeping exotic animals, might be used to convince state and federal wildlife agencies to remove wolves from the county.
"I see wolves as a huge public safety issue, and a huge economic issue," Palmer said.
He said a citizen recently reminded him of the ordinance, prompting him to revisit it.
The Court in 2003 adopted the ordinance, which defines exotic animals as including wolves not native to Oregon. The ordinance is based on the Court's findings that Oregon's indigenous wolf families are extinct, while the gray wolf that has moved from Idaho into Oregon is non-native.
However, commissioners recalled the state taking some action about that time to change how wolves are defined, blunting the impact of the county ordinance.
Last week, after talking with the county counsel, Commissioner Boyd Britton said that action did take place, "neutering" the county's ordinance.
He said legislators revisited the law defining "exotic" and it no longer applies to wolves.
Britton and Commissioner Scott Myers, along with then-County Judge Dennis Reynolds, signed the county ordinance in 2003.
Palmer said the intent was to protect the public, livestock, wildlife and also the economic interests of the county.
It defined "keeping" of a wolf as releasing it into the wild, not restraining it, or preventing the removal of a wolf from the county. Palmer felt that would apply to actions of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which are monitoring the reintroduction of wolves into the western states.
In Oregon, wolves are protected by the state Endangered Species Act. West of Highways 395, 78 and 95, wolves also are protected by the federal ESA. The state adopted a wolf management plan in 2005.
Palmer wanted to use the ordinance to approach state and federal wildlife officials to ask them to remove any wolves that enter the county. If they refused, he said, the county could remove the wolves at the agencies' expense as "an abatement situation."
"It's not my intent to go out and start shooting," he said. "But if they're permitting, or promoting the establishment of wolves, they'd better be ready to take responsibility for the problems it creates."
Despite information that takes the teeth out of the county ordinance, Palmer remains opposed to any programs that allow wolves to settle in the county.
"There is absolutely nothing beneficial to Grant County in having wolves here," Palmer said. "They're vicious, they're killers, they're detrimental."
He still hopes to improve communication with ODFW and federal wildlife officials, to require them to notify the sheriff's office whenever a collared wolf is detected in the county.
"Ranchers will call us first if they have a problem," he said. "When that happens, we want to make sure to preserve the crime scene."