Legislation offers compensation without tapping limited funds

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

SALEM -- A bill giving Oregon ranchers a state tax credit or tax deduction to compensate for livestock losses to wolves and cougars could be introduced in the February legislative session.

Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, introduced the concept last month in a House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee meeting. Jenson is co-chair of the committee.

Under Jenson's bill, livestock owners would be eligible for the tax credit or deduction for losses from any predator afforded protections under state law.

Cougars are included because of restrictions on using dogs to hunt the animals. Wolves are protected under the state Endangered Species Act.

Jenson said he is looking for ways to compensate livestock owners outside of the wolf compensation fund.

"There is not much money in that compensation fund, and getting any money for the fund this next session will be nigh on impossible," Jenson said.

"So I'm looking for some way to provide some compensation for people who are having to eat the loss that comes with having an increased number of predators out there," Jenson said. "It seems only fair."

The wolf compensation fund, authorized by the 2011 Legislature, contains $100,000. It will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis beginning next year. To be eligible, ranchers must obtain a determination from state wildlife agents that wolves caused livestock losses.

Under Jenson's bill, a determination from USDA wildlife agents that wolves or cougars caused livestock losses is sufficient.

Jenson said he has grown more aware of concerns with wolf depredation since buying a home in Lostine Canyon. Residents of that Wallowa County area are concerned over the presence of wolves and their impact on ranchers' ability to raise livestock, he said.

"I've been thinking about what we could reasonably do, trying to find some way to work within the system, rather than continually butting our heads against the wall," he said.

Jenson said he still is working out particulars of the bill, but hopes to have it ready to go in February. If not, he said, he will introduce it in the 2013 session.

He already has one supporter.

"I think it is a very good bill," Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, said after hearing of it. He is Jenson's fellow agriculture committee co-chair.

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