WINSTON, Ore. — Livestock owners who attended the recent Douglas County Livestock Association’s Spring Conference were in total agreement that wolves would have an impact on their operations sooner rather than later.
These ranchers graze cattle, sheep and goats in the foothills on the west side of the Cascade Mountains and on the east side of the Coast Range in southwestern Oregon. They are well aware wolves from the Rogue Pack that have impacted livestock in Jackson County to the south have ventured north into Douglas County and that a group of three wolves has been confirmed there.
“We’ve known for a long time that they were coming and that we were going to have issues with them and that we would have to learn to manage them within the rules,” said Veril Nelson. Nelson, who owns a red Angus operation east of Sutherlin, Ore., is the co-chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s wolf committee.
“I feel for the guys in the Glide (Oregon) and Days Creek (Oregon) areas and east of Sutherlin, those close to mountains,” he added. “I’m close enough that I’m nervous. Those wolves cover a lot of country so it’s easy to be vulnerable to them.”
Dan Dawson, a sheep, goat and cattle rancher near Glide, said he expects wolves to be a “big problem.” The 40-year-old Dawson, who grew up in the Glide area, said he’s seen a decline in the deer and elk populations in the Cascade Mountains east of his property. With deer and elk already being pressured down to lower elevations by cougars, Dawson expects wolves to soon follow and then come into contact with domestic animals, an easier source of food.
Troy Michaels has a Days Creek area cattle, sheep and goat ranch that is only 50 to 60 miles from the Prospect, Ore., ranch to the south that has already suffered several livestock losses to the Rogue Pack. The Michaels’ ranch is 25 miles from the crest of the Cascade Mountains.
“I’m expecting them, absolutely,” Michaels said. “Nobody knows when, but they will be here. We try to provide a stress-free environment for our animals, but wolves will change that.”
Michaels said his operation has struggled with coyotes for years and so has built a lot of fence as a preventive measure. The ranch also has three kangal guard dogs that have kept coyotes at bay for the past couple of years.
“In talking to others, guard dogs help, but we’ll have to have more of them to deal with wolves,” Michaels said.
Rancher Rex Heard runs sheep on the east side of the Coast Range west of Roseburg, Ore. He is also an outdoorsman and hunter so he wants to see all types of wildlife, but he also wants the ability to manage them when there are conflicts.
“As a producer and steward of the land and the livestock that I choose to raise, my main concern is that we will be dealing with a non-native, highly skilled killer that has to eat to survive just like I do,” Heard said. “The programs put in place to introduce and manage these predators is designed only to enhance and help propagate one species at the expense of a whole lot of other species of wildlife as well as livestock.
“Most means of management that are presented to producers are non-lethal,” he added. “I love wildlife and I don’t want all the coyotes, cougars and wolves to disappear, but if they are killing my stock and disrupting their lifestyle and well-being as well as mine, then I want to have the right and resources to be able to bury them right alongside the stock that they kill.”
All of these ranchers are aware of the non-lethal methods that have been used elsewhere to discourage wolves from visiting livestock pastures. Those include removing bone piles, installing electrified fladry, motion sensored alarm systems, strobe lights, guard dogs and inflatable characters. Their opinions on these methods, after talking to others who have used them or reading about them, is that they have a limited time span as far as being effective.
Paul Wolfe, the USDA’s Southwest Oregon supervisor for Wildlife Services, agreed that those methods work, but only for so long.
“We’re making sure information on those methods is available, but there is no magic wand,” he said. “Be as proactive as you can, be out there monitoring any wolf activity and let officials know they’re (wolves) out there.”
The local ranchers are hoping the present proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the gray wolf in the Lower 48 states is approved, leaving management of the animal up to individual states and their respective wolf plans. The ranchers were reminded to make their opinions known during the public comment period that ends May 14 “because we know a lot of people who don’t want delisting will comment against the proposal,” Nelson said. “We need to write to U.S. Fish and Wildlife and support the delisting.”
In anticipation of wolf conflicts, Douglas County recently formed the Douglas County Wolf Advisory Committee. Jackson County to the south had already established such a committee. Douglas County’s committee includes Chairman Tom Kress, who is a Douglas County commissioner, two business owners, two ranchers and two members who are advocates of co-existing with wolves.
“It’s a vehicle that is mandated by the state in order to apply for funds that are available to help with preventive measures or reimbursement after conflicts occur,” Kress said. “We’re going to be Jackson County in the near future. The only reason we’re not yet is because they graze cattle further east (into the Cascades) than we do. But we need to have this process in place before there are conflicts so we’re not behind the eight-ball.”