Oregon officials collar another wolf

Aug 31, 2009

Oregon officials collar another wolf

Eastern Oregon ranchers are feeling uneasy now that a second female with pups has been collared in the area. In late July, a female wolf, with two or three young pups, was collared by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) officers in the remote Salt Creek region near the Imnaha River in the Eagle Cap Wilderness area. At the time, another male was seen with them, however, ODFW officials were unable to capture the wolf although he remains in the area.

State officials reported that the wolf moved across the state line from a pack in Idaho and was known as B-300. When she was fitted with a tracking collar in Oregon, her identification was officially changed to OR-2.

Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) Wolf Committee Chairman Rod Childers said the newly collared wolves are roaming in an area of the state where there are cattle grazing, although no losses have been reported yet.

"That’s really rugged and remote country up there and the rancher that’s grazing up there won’t be gathering his cattle until October," said Childers. "At that point, we’ll have a better idea whether or not he has had any losses."

Regardless of whether there is documented depredation or not, Childers said there isn’t much that ranchers can do about it because state laws protect the wolves.

"The gray wolf delisting that occurred in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming also covers wolves in Oregon west to Highway 395, but we also have a state endangered species law that protects these animals, so there is not much we can do to protect our livestock," he said.

Childers said there is a great deal of gray area surrounding the state’s endangered species laws which, in the case of the wolves, have created four distinct management zones. In each of those zones, there must be four breeding pairs for a period of two years before they will be considered for removal from the state protected list.

"There is a long time left until we’ll be able to get anything done. At that point, we will have more management tools available to us; but until then, there’s not much we can do," said Childers. He noted that under current law, even when wolves are caught in the act of depredation, ranchers cannot legally defend their livestock. He pointed to the case earlier this year when a male wolf, designated OR-1 by ODFW, was caught on camera killing 19 sheep in the Keating area near Baker City, OR, as proof that ranchers have been left with no options for protecting livestock.

"In that case there, they killed 19 sheep and at least one calf in three separate incidents over 10 days and they never even considered issuing a permit to take the wolf," said Childers.

He said that state law does set up a structure for the issuance of a permit, but the guidelines are very unclear.

"There is a lot of gray area as to when ODFW may issue a permit to kill a wolf that has been preying on livestock. The law says there must be between three and 10 attacks, but they haven’t issued one for the Keating wolf, so we’re not sure how many it would take," said Childers.

He pointed out that OCA and area ranchers have been trying to get a law passed through the Legislature that would better enable area ranchers to deal with the losses, including the creation of a compensation fund, but it has been an uphill battle.

"Last year, several OCA members went to the Legislature with a bill but we weren’t even able to get a hearing in front of a committee on it," said Childers.

Following the wolf depredation in the Keating area, Childers said OCA tried to convince the Legislature to revise Oregon’s Wolf Management Plan language to allow them to take measures beyond the allowed "hazing only" to protect their livestock.

"The Legislature did move to change the wolf status from "exotic" to "game mammal," and made a provision that "a person may take a gray wolf at any time if the taking is necessary to avoid imminent, grave injury to any person," OCA reported "This ‘victory’ was celebrated by the cattlemen’s association as a first step on a long road to gain more rights to protect their property and their livestock."

However, there remains much work to be done, including the establishment of a compensation fund for ranchers who suffer wolf depredation, Childers said.

"I think if these attacks keep happening, we’ll be able to get something done with the Legislature," said Childers. "Unfortunately, it’s going to mean that people are going to have to suffer more losses before it happens." — John Robinson, WLJ Editor