Current rules for protecting livestock 'basically worthless'
By MITCH LIES
As the number of calf deaths mounts in Eastern Oregon, ranchers want more authority to kill the wolves responsible.
Under Oregon's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, permitted ranchers can shoot a wolf only if it is caught in the act of killing livestock.
The ranchers want that provision expanded to include wolves harassing and chasing livestock.
"The chance of (catching a wolf killing livestock) is less than the chance of getting struck by lightning on the Zumwalt Prairie," said Oregon Board of Agriculture member and Eastern Oregon rancher Jan Kerns.
"Those things are basically worthless," said Rod Childers, a rancher from north of Enterprise, Ore., who is chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association's Wolf Committee.
"The livestock industry just cannot support any more losses," Kerns said.
In Wallowa County, nine calves have been killed by wolves this spring, according to USDA Wildlife Services.
The impacts of the losses extend well beyond the dollar value of the calves, Kerns said, estimated at about $700 each.
The losses are taking an emotional toll on ranchers, Kerns said, and are changing the way they manage livestock.
"Ranchers are afraid to turn out cattle on their allotments, because that's just free meals (for the wolves)," Kerns said.
Ranchers who are turning out cattle are spending more time watching herds and some are "flash grazing" areas to keep herds closer to home.
"It's going to come down to one of two things in Wallowa County," Kerns said, "wolves or livestock."
Cattlemen are looking to amend the Oregon wolf management plan as part of the ODFW's five-year review.
In addition to expanding take provisions for permitted ranchers, ranchers want the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to ease restrictions limiting when the state can allow Wildlife Services to kill problem wolves.
Under current restrictions, the state can call in Wildlife Services only if two adjacent landowners lose cattle.
This year, five calves where killed before two adjacent ranchers suffered losses to wolves.
Ranchers also would like to see the state Fish and Wildlife Commission simplify the process for obtaining permits. Only ranchers who suffer losses to wolves are eligible for the permits. And in some cases, Kerns said, it has taken several weeks for ranchers to get those permits.
"Landowners have got to have the opportunity to take lethal action immediately," Kerns said.
Under existing state law, livestock producers who don't have a wolf-take permit are restricted from killing wolves -- even those caught in the act of attacking livestock.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's recent authorization that allows USDA Wildlife Services to kill wolves gives them authority to kill two wolves from the Imnaha pack, which officials believe is responsible for the rash of calf killings.
Wildlife Services hunters are restricted to killing wolves "showing an interest in livestock." And the authorization limits the killing to "an area where three of the confirmed livestock kills are clustered" and only on privately owned pasture currently inhabited by livestock.
Wildlife Services last week received authorization to hunt the wolves by air.
The Imnaha pack -- Oregon's only breeding pair -- is believed to include one breeding pair and eight or more additional wolves ranging in age from pups to young adults.
Under Oregon's wolf management plan, four breeding pairs must inhabit Oregon for three consecutive years before the state can delist the animals. Wolves are protected under Oregon's Endangered Species Act.
The ODFW plans to consider amending its Wolf Conservation and Management Plan at its Oct. 1 meeting in Bend.
It is taking public comments up through the meeting. For comments to be considered by ODFW staff, which is compiling a report, they should be received by June 30, according to department spokeswoman Michelle Denehee.
Comments can be e-mailed to ODFW.Comments@state.or.us .