Ranchers strive to resolve complicated wolf issue
By ROD CHILDERS
For the Capital Press
Oregon's wolf issue was a much-discussed topic at the recent Oregon Cattlemen's Association fall conference. Just a few days after our meeting in Pendleton, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed another livestock death in Wallowa County attributed to wolves. I believe most Oregonians would agree something needs to be done.
The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is currently up for review, and Oregon cattle ranchers are seeking reasonable adjustments to it. The latest update was released Oct. 1. Many new issues have arisen since the plan's inception five years ago, but one thing remains constant: Ranchers have a great need to protect their livestock. OCA members seek the same types of management tools provided to ranchers in Idaho and other states that have experienced successful wolf reintroductions. They also seek a fair and equitable compensation plan that takes into account unconfirmed kills.
Ranchers have been working side-by-side with Wildlife Services and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife since the Imnaha wolf pack moved into the Wallowa valley in March. The first wolf attacks on livestock there were thwarted due to a diligent rancher who was alerted by his stock dogs barking at 3 a.m. He was able to run them off by yelling and firing a pistol in the air. Since this incident the two agencies have investigated 10 livestock depredations.
Wildlife Services has investigated 20 livestock attacks in Wallowa County -- 10 have been confirmed kills, one probable death, 2 woundings and seven unconfirmed. ODFW confirmed 6 of these and 1 probable death. This may be contributed to inconsistent protocol, different investigators and some inspections not done on site (the wolf coordinator for ODFW has not been on site for these investigations).
Since then, Wildlife Services has conducted training attended by ODFW in La Grande.
These attacks have taken place at the same time that wolf plan revisions were being considered. OCA is recommending sound changes to the plan, including that Wildlife Services be the lead agency for consistency at depredation sites, which experts in the other states with wolves say is crucial in making solid determinations.
Working with ODFW, some changes were made by administrative rule in May and we thank the department for those changes. The plan still needs more changes to give ranchers the right to protect their livestock, such as amending the "caught in the act" permit that only allows you to protect your livestock if you catch wolves actually biting your animal. If it is just chasing, you can do nothing.
It is difficult for a rancher to do nothing when a wolf is threatening their livestock. Wolves are a very prolific predator, hard to manage and not efficient killers like cougars, which keep bloodshed to a minimum and kill quickly. Wolves often leave their victims partially consumed before the animals finally die of blood loss or violent injuries. When wolves kill, the death is often described as brutal.
Ranchers have never been against a diverse wildlife population. In fact, ranchers are proud to be the last and best bastions of open spaces, rangelands and forest. We help ensure Oregon's natural landscapes remain unbroken and pristine, and that the state's wildlife have a home. The Oregon departments of Agriculture and Fish and Wildlife estimate Oregon's ranchers provide habitat for more than 70 percent of the state's wild animals. This ensures ongoing -- and often unnoticed -- protection of forage, water and large expanses of land.
Oregon's natural landscape is a wondrous and diverse place, home to hundreds of animal species. Working in this environment is both a challenge and a privilege for our ranching community. Name-calling does nothing to address serious impacts caused by wolves to communities, wildlife and agriculture. It also fails to provide solutions. It simply fosters discord and polarization.
The time for rhetoric has passed. It is time to engage in a more meaningful approach to resolving issues Oregonians face.
Rod Childers, an Enterprise, Ore., cattle rancher, is the Wolf Committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.