Producers who depend on predator control from USDA Wildlife Services are lobbying the state legislature to keep funding for field agents in the budget for the next biennium.
Around 23% of the average field agent’s salary comes from the state through the departments of Fish and Wildlife and Agriculture, said Dave Williams, Oregon’s Wildlife Services director.
“It is a really important thing to recognize that we are a service agency and we work with state-managed agencies,” Williams said.
Katie Fast of Oregonians for Food and Shelter said state funding for Wildlife Services has routinely been eliminated from the governor’s budget for many years.
“It seems like every session we have to go in and make the case to have those dollars put back in,” Fast said.
The federal government kicks in 14% directly toward the field agents’ time, but Williams pointed out that USDA also funds support of their infrastructure, administrative support, supervision and National Environmental Policy Act work.
“Every dollar from the state brings in another eight dollars to address a whole, broad diversity of wildlife conflicts across the state,” Williams said.
The biggest portion of the agents’ pay, 63%, comes from the counties.
Susan Morgan, chairwoman of the Association of Oregon Counties, said she is concerned about the potential loss of more funding.
“Some counties can’t even really afford a full-time person,” Morgan said. “I think there is a lot of concern that counties can’t pick up and shoulder that cost if the state isn’t there as a partner.”
Budget cuts forced Wallowa County’s Wildlife Services field agent to leave and take a job in Wyoming, Williams said.
Of Oregon’s 36 counties, 27 help fund field agents, Williams said. The agents are best known for protecting the state’s 225,000 head of cattle worth $320 million and 131,000 sheep and lambs, worth $11 million, but they also help control birds affecting safety at airports, cormorants eating endangered salmon and removing feral swine decimating private property in central Oregon.
Oregon Revised Statute 610 directs the state to work with USDA on predator control and any money appropriated by the legislature shall be expended in cooperation with the federal agency.
“Appropriate measures must be taken to assist farmers, ranchers and others in resolving wildlife damage problems and federal, state, county and other local governments involved in wildlife damage control should mutually cooperate in their related efforts,” the law states.
However, the state funding expected from Fish and Wildlife is stretched thin and Bruce Eddy, the department’s East Region manager, said funding field agents is not the highest priority when setting a budget.
“Of all the things you might cut, that one is the easiest, not because we don’t appreciate the help, but because we have to fund programs like our hatcheries, wildlife biologists and fish screening program,” Eddy said.
An email from Michelle Dennehy, communications coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, said all state agencies are required to submit a 10% cut across all fund types during development of the agency’s recommended budget to the governor.
“Wildlife Services funding was an item on that list for General Fund funding, and now this reduction in funding is represented in the governor’s budget,” Dennehy wrote.
Dennehy added other sources of Wildlife Services’ funding remain in the Fish and Wildlife’s budget — such as the biennium general fund appropriation of $120,000 to assist landowners in controlling predatory animals and $108,000 in license fees the agents use to work on damage complaints associated with bear, cougar, furbearers and wolves.