Oregon ranchers struggle to protect livestock from wolves

Jun 29, 2009
by WLJ

Oregon ranchers struggle to protect

livestock despite wolf delisting

The April 2, 2009, removal of the gray wolf from the federal Endangered Species List was a welcome event to western ranchers, especially those who have struggled with the costs of wolf predation. In Oregon, however, the federal delisting has done little to improve ranchers’ ability to protect their livestock. This is because the gray wolf is still listed as an endangered species by the state of Oregon and, consequently, is protected by state law. According to Russ Morgan, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) wolf coordinator, ranchers may apply for a permit to lethally remove a wolf, but only after ODFW has first confirmed wolf activity and exhausted reasonable non-lethal means of deterring wolf attacks. If non-lethal means are ineffective, a rancher may be issued a takings permit by ODFW which entitles him or her to kill a wolf. However, the wolf can be legally killed by a takings-permit holder only if it is "caught in the act" of attacking livestock.

The Oregon Cattleman’s Association (OCA), in cooperation with the Oregon Farm Bureau (OFB), has attempted to amend legislation to expand the circumstances under which ranchers are permitted to kill wolves. OCA and OFB supported a bill before the current legislative session that would have enlarged the "takings language" to include "biting," "chasing," and "harassing." This would allow ranchers with a takings permit to take a wolf when it was simply threatening livestock, without having to wait until they caught the wolf in the act of attacking and killing livestock. They further hoped to pass legislation that would provide ranchers with the option of carrying out a "permitless take," which would empower ranchers to kill a wolf attacking or harassing livestock on the spot, without negotiating the lengthy process currently required by ODFW. However, despite strong endorsement from Oregon’s agricultural producers, the bill, which was vigorously opposed by the Defenders of Wildlife, did not pass and subsequent attempts at negotiating a mutually acceptable Oregon Wolf Plan have deadlocked.

The failure of this bill has left Oregon ranchers that face wolf problems with few options. A rancher confronting a case of wolf predation must proceed according to ODFW protocol. Yet in the potentially lengthy process of having the state confirm wolf involvement and subsequently attempt non-lethal means of control, livestock and livelihoods can be lost. Further, at this time, Oregon has no state-run compensation program for ranchers who suffer losses to wolf predation; Idaho and Montana do sponsor such programs. Currently, while the federal delisting is under appeal, the Defenders of Wildlife’s Bailey Foundation may provide some compensation to qualifying ranchers suffering from wolf predation. Defenders of Wildlife northern Rockies representative Suzanne Stone specifies that this assistance will only remain available while the federal wolf delisting is under appeal. If the federal delisting of wolves is upheld, Defenders of Wildlife will discontinue compensatory assistance to ranchers. The Defenders of Wildlife also sponsors demonstrations of non-lethal wolf management options, and hopes to share this information with ranchers.

OCA Wolf Committee Chair Rod Childers points out that ranchers are not out to destroy wolves, but simply want to have the right to defend their property and livelihoods.

"We understand that we can’t just go out and see a wolf and shoot it. We’ll have to be able to show that an attack was imminent on the livestock. We understand we’ll have to be able to prove that," said Childers. "Many of our fellow Americans want wolves back in the lower 48. We respect that. All we are looking for is the right to protect our livestock."

OCA would like to follow Idaho’s example, where takings language has successfully been expanded along similar lines to that being proposed in Oregon. However, ranchers may not want to get too comfortable with tackling the wolf issue at the state level yet. A group of conservation organizations (including Defenders of Wildlife) has appealed the decision to delist the wolf, and it is still possible that wolf management will be returned into the hands of the federal government should the appeal be successful. If that happens, all ranchers would be back in the same boat, with the federal agencies once again at the tiller. — Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent