By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Wallowa County rancher Rod Childers told lawmakers in a House committee April 16 that ranchers' patience is wearing thin as wolves continue to kill livestock and cause "irreparable damage" to some ranch families.
But, he said, ranchers haven't resorted to killing wolves.
"Even though our patience is running thin out there -- we've had depredations for over three years now -- none of us have taken a wolf," Childers said.
Childers testified before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in support of a bill that would relax restrictions on a rancher's ability to protect livestock from wolves.
House Bill 3452 would allow what is known as "permit-less take" in cases where ranchers catch a wolf "attacking, harassing ... or are reasonably certain" a wolf will attack livestock.
Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild, an environmental group, opposed the bill.
"It goes far beyond what the wolf plan contemplated and could allow poaching to go unpunished," Klavin said.
"We prefer to focus on preventing conflict and getting back to the wolf plan we thought we had in 2005," Klavin said.
The committee has scheduled a work session on HB3452 on April 18.
Under current law, ranchers must obtain a permit from the state to kill problem wolves, and then can do so only if catching a wolf in the act of attacking livestock.
Permits are issued in cases where ranchers have suffered chronic depredation and performed nonlethal measures to try and prevent additional livestock losses.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has issued more than 70 take permits over the past three years, Childers said.
"Out of all of those permits, nobody has ever caught a wolf in the act of actually biting," Childers said.
"The caught-in-the-act definition in the wolf plan has been meaningless for ranchers," Childers said.
"We simply want to keep our livestock alive and out of harm's way," Childers said. "We need all the tools to be available for varying circumstances."
Childers said wolves from the Imnaha pack -- one of six known packs in Oregon -- have preyed on livestock in Wallowa County over the past three years, causing "irreparable damage ... to several of our families over there."
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials have confirmed wolves from the pack have killed more than 24 head of livestock.
Childers said that figure represents only the tip of the iceberg.
"A lot of the studies will show that we only find about one out of every six that are confirmed (killed by wolves)," Childers said.
Further, Childers said, evidence in other states that have allowed ranchers more leeway to kill problem wolves shows the expanded allowance has not resulted in a significant loss of wolf population.
"Through 2010, less than half of 1 percent of all wolves taken in the Northwest have been by producers," Childers said. "So, you're not going to exterminate wolves by this."