Court battle disrupts state plan for wolf management

By JOHN SCHMITZ

For the Capital Press

Cattle ranching in Eastern Oregon is tough enough without having to battle wolf and water issues.

"Wolves and water are pretty much the hot topics," said Oregon Cattlemen's Association president-elect Curtis Martin, who operates out of North Powder, Ore.

Oregon cattlemen have a new reason to be concerned. An Oregon Court of Appeals judge granted a temporary stay on an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife kill order for two wolves in Wallowa County.

The animals, which are protected under state law, became the cattlemen's Public Enemy No. 1 after a series of attacks on livestock in the region. Currently, at least 14 wolves are believed to roam northeastern Oregon.

Cattlemen support the department's management plan and the ODFW's kill order, which was in the process of being carried out just before the stay was granted.

"We feel that ODFW has gone through every extreme to make sure that every 'I' was dotted and 'T' was crossed," Martin said.

The temporary stay was the result of an appeal by three conservation groups: Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity.

"History from Wyoming and Idaho has taught us that once a (wolf) pack starts getting into cattle, they do not quit," Martin said. "The only way to stop that depredation is to eradicate the whole pack."

Martin said there are no firm numbers on how many wolves are in Oregon. "Even ODFW figures contradict each other," he said.

As for water issues facing cattlemen, the "hot topic" currently is an attempt now to get clarification of the Oregon ag water quality management program, Martin said.

"It's a continuation of Senate Bill 1010 that was enacted back in Governor (John) Kitzhaber's first term," he said.

At issue is whether the state Department of Environmental Quality or the Oregon Department of Agriculture should be the final authority on water quality, which, according to SB1010, rests with ODA.

"The 1010 statute clearly defines ODA as having the implementation of the ag water quality program," Martin said.

Martin said that as time has passed the issue is getting "more complicated and involved" to the point where "what started out as a good program needs to be maybe pursued a little bit more and clarified."

During the 2011 legislative session, Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, introduced HB3613-4, which sought to more clearly define Oregon's ag water quality program.

"We wanted to make it clearer that the Department of Ag (is) the agency charged with the implementation of the higher standards of the Clean Water Act," Bentz said.

When HB 3613-4 died in the Senate after passing the House, a movement began to forge a memorandum of understanding between DEQ and ODF.

"It was the governor's hope that this dialogue continue, so a workgroup was formed," Bentz said.

Based on the first meeting of the workgroup, "getting the two agencies together in 2012 is going to be extremely difficult," Bentz said. Subsequently, he said, it's been decided to shift attention away from HB3613-4 toward forging a memorandum of understanding between the two agencies.

"The purpose of the MOU is to address the respective positions of the two agencies in implementing these new standards," Bentz said.

What bothers Martin and other cattlemen is that the ag sector is often blamed for water quality problems outside farmers' and ranchers' control.

He said producers are also upset that all of the positive steps cattlemen have taken to improve water quality on ranches, such as fencing and off-stream watering, never make headlines.

Even worse, "There's a side of the populace out there that thinks that since there haven't been any fines levied that evidently the (water quality) program must not be working," Martin said.

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