With wolf activity expected to increase as fall deepens into winter, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has allocated about $38,000 to help ranchers prevent livestock attacks in five key counties.
The money will be spent to pay range riders, put up electrified flagging systems called fladry that bother wolves, remove bone piles that may attract them and in one case buy a box that emits an alarm when activated by radio signals from an approaching wolf wearing an electronic tracking collar. Funding comes from $200,000 approved by the Legislature for the 2013-15 biennium, twice what was allocated previously.
The state wanted to get selected prevention measures in place quickly this fall, said Jason Barber, who administers the program for the agriculture department. While compensation payments for livestock kills can lag a year behind the incident date, “The prevention part happens right now,” he said.
Wallowa County, which has borne the brunt of wolf and livestock problems, was awarded $15,532 for range riders and fladry. Umatilla County will get $15,500, also for fladry and for range riders, who respond on ATVs or horseback when signals indicate collared wolves are approaching livestock. Other payments are $3,000 to Crook County to remove bone piles left when cattle die; $2,990 to Malheur County for fladry; and $760 to Morrow County for bone pile removal and a radio activated guard box, called a “RAG” box.
Wolves are protected under state and federal law in Oregon. Their return to Oregon has been marked by conflict and controversy for years. As of Oct. 10, 81 livestock or domestic animals have been confirmed killed by wolves since the late 1990s, according the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The state had at least 46 gray wolves at the end of 2012, according the department. Wildlife officials count six packs of various sizes and some individuals. All are in northeastern Oregon except for OR-7, the famous wandering wolf who traveled from northeastern Oregon into California before returning to southern Oregon.
While ranchers and farmers called for tougher enforcement action against the predators, conservation groups welcomed their return. Three groups sued the state over its wolf control program, resulting in a settlement that established new management rules. Among other things, Fish and Wildlife can’t kill wolves until there have been four “qualifying incidents” within six months.
The rules have proven to be complicated. In order for an attack to be counted, the landowner had to be using two preventative measures — fladry, range riders and the like — and they must have been in place at the time of the attack.
On Aug. 23, for example, a milking goat was found killed and partially eaten in Umatilla County. State officials quickly confirmed it was a wolf kill, the second by what’s become known as the Umatilla River pack. But the wildlife department did not file a deterrence plan within a 14-day deadline and so was not able to count it as a second qualifying incident.
“It was our fault, it took longer than expected,” department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.
The state has paid more than $20,000 in wolf attack compensation in the past two years. In 2012, the state paid $13,230 for livestock death or injury that occurred between August 2011 and February 2012. All of it went to Wallowa County.
In 2013, the state paid $5,396 to Wallowa County, $1,400 for attacks in Baker County, and $600 to Umatilla County. County-based committees direct the money to livestock owners.
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association took part in the settlement negotiations that produced the wolf management rules. Jim Welsh, an association lobbyist, said livestock owners “do everything they can to keep wolves away from the herd.” Range riders appear to be the most effective measure, he said. “Really, human presence seems to be the best way to keep them away.”
The program is new, but Welsh said the association appreciates the work of wildlife and agriculture departments, the Legislature’s decision to double funding and the support of Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office. Some other states with wolves have had a harder time finding such cooperation, he said.
“We’ve been blessed with some of that happening in Oregon,” he said.