Ranchers want compensation from wolf damage

SALEM — A hearing in Salem on proposed wolf management bills showed agreement from just about everybody involved on one issue — Oregon ranchers should be compensated for livestock losses. But other issues may not be as easy to resolve.

About 35 people showed up for the two-hour hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources on five bills backed by the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

In addition to a pair of bills proposing a compensation plan, two other bills would authorize killing wolves — one when they attack livestock and another, without cause. A fifth bill would cut the state's population goal for wolf recovery in half, to four breeding pairs.

Ranchers said they need the proposed changes to deal with livestock losses and threats to safety.

But conservation groups said the proposals amount to a political end run around the current Oregon wolf management plan.

"I am extremely disappointed to have to be here again today to discuss efforts to undermine Oregon's wolf plan and fragile wolf recovery that were proposed, discussed, debated, and soundly rejected in last year's extensive public process," Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild told the House committee.

Opponents of the proposed management changes said the state should stick to the requirements for both wolf numbers and constraints on killing the animals outlined in the state wolf management plan updated last year.

"The vast majority of Oregonians are proud of this compromise plan and the process that was used to create it, and it is important that state legislators defend it," said Randy Comeleo, of Corvallis.

Suzanne Stone, with Defenders of Wildlife, said coyotes alone kill 10 times more livestock than wolves, while cougars, bears, bad weather, disease and birthing complications also take a toll.

But ranchers told lawmakers that wolves are costing them money and peace of mind.

Karl Patton, a rancher from Joseph in northeastern Oregon, said he was awakened last March by six wolves in the dark "coming full speed." He started shooting until they ran off.

Wolves have killed his livestock twice, including two pregnant cows, one of which was carrying twins, he said. "When they were coming at me and the dogs, they were not coming to shake hands," Patton said.

Ramona Phillips, also of Joseph, said wolves are changing the behavior of livestock and the members of her family.

"Now we live the stress of wolf attacks 24/7," she said.

Wildlife experts already are authorized to kill problem wolves, which can be killed if they are an immediate threat. But conservationists say easing protection for wolves as proposed by the bills could lead to poaching.

"It would essentially take us back to the good old days where killing a wolf on sight was OK," Klavins said. "There's no way to prove after the fact that that wolf was, in fact, threatening your cattle or was within 500 feet of a house."

Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, the animal populations in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, eastern Washington and eastern Oregon have grown to nearly 1,500.

The first wolf crossed into Oregon in 1999. Wildlife managers confirm 39 domestic animals have since been killed by wolves, whose population now totals at least 23.

Another hearing by the committee is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Share This Story