As the Wasco County Board of Commissioners prepares for wolves spreading to the central part of the state, at least one local rancher is concerned they — or hybrid wolf-dogs — may already be here.
Dufur rancher Mike Filbin told members of the North Central Livestock Association at an April 9 meeting that Clackamas County authorities asked in the early 1990s to borrow his tranquilizer gun. He said one of the hybrids was on the steps of Timberline Lodge scaring guests and wildlife officials wanted to drug it and move it to another location.
He said hybrids are much smaller than the Canadian gray wolves that live in eastern Oregon, which have been pictured with a body length of almost 7 feet and a head the size of a bear. Filbin also contends that one of his cows might have been killed by a wolf a couple of years ago.
He said the cow had been left to graze on public land above Timothy Lake on the southern side of Mount Hood. He found very little of her carcass and the ground was torn up in a way that he later learned was indicative of a wolf attack.
“I think they’re already here,” he said.
Last week, Commissioner Steve Kramer was given the names of ranchers during a meeting of the association in Maupin. He has also been contacted by at least five conservationists who want to be part of the group.
The state mandates that two positions on the committee be held by the owners of animals raised for food or fiber. There must also be two people who are proponents of wolf recovery and one county commissioner. Once the advisory body is up and running, its members will appoint two business representatives.
“This is a new committee, so we’ll have a discussion Wednesday about how to put things together,” said Scott Hege, chair of the commission. “We need to get staff engaged before decisions are made to learn what we need to do in order to protect our livestock owners.”
The county board convenes at 9 a.m. April 16 in Room 302 of the courthouse, 511 Washington Street.
Although gray wolves have crossed the Idaho border to settle into the northeastern corner of Oregon, none have been seen in or around the gorge. However, state biologists reported in March that a wolf track had been found in December on the eastern slope of Mount Hood. There has been no actual sighting of an animal so wildlife officials don’t know whether that wolf is still around or was just passing through the area.
That report followed a February visit with local ranchers by Todd Nash, an Enterprise cattleman who has lost numerous cows and calves to wolves, and prompted local ranchers to act.
Keith Nantz, president of the association that represents ranchers in Wasco and Sherman counties, said after Nash’s visit that it was important to be “proactive” and get a compensation committee in place.
“We want to be ahead of the curve,” he said.
The first wolf sighting in Oregon in decades was a female tracked in 1999 from Idaho to the middle fork of the John Day River, about 80 miles east of The Dalles.
She was darted, caged and returned to her home state but other wolves followed and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife now reports 64 wolves in eight established packs.
Under the agency’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan adopted in 2005, a committee must be in place to determine the livestock kills in each county and seek compensation from the state. Grants can also be obtained from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to institute non-lethal prevention measures that are intended to aid in the co-existence of wolves and livestock.
Kramer said it is going to be difficult to compete for state funding, unless the amount is increased, because of the needs in counties with a growing wolf population. He recently learned that $65,000 out of the $100,000 earmarked by state officials for this year is going to Wallowa County ranchers alone.
In 2013, the state paid $62,820 in seven counties for livestock kills by predators.
“Our goal is to get the committee in place by mid-June but we’re going to be waiting awhile for any money to come through,” said Kramer.
Thirty percent of any compensation received by a rancher has to be used on non-lethal defenses, including range riders, guard dogs, flagged fencing and radio-activated boxes that emit a noise when a collared wolf approaches.
The wolf populations in Idaho and Montana, states where 35 gray wolves were reintroduced in 1995, is nearing 1,700. For that reason, the animals have been federally delisted as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Northern Rockies, which includes the eastern portion of Oregon.
Wolves remain on the state’s protected species list and are federally listed west of Highways 395-95 and 78, with a no-kill rule in place.
Wolves can be killed in the eastern region of the state if they are caught in the act of biting or wounding livestock.
Once Wasco County has a committee in place, it is obligated to contribute up to 10 percent of any funding amount to implement a compensation program. Hege and Kramer said the specifics of that mandate are not yet known and will be another area of research for staffers.
Wasco County Chief Deputy Lane Magill told about 25 association members last week that wolf kills will be treated like a homicide investigation. For that reason, the association members agreed that the emergency dispatch center should be the first place that potential kills are reported.
Magill said deputies will be trained to respond to these calls and he will work with ranchers to ensure that the scenes of kills are preserved for an investigation.
“We want to limit the number of disturbances going on to preserve tracks and evidence,” he said.
Jeremy Thompson, district wildlife biologist who works out of ODFW’s office in The Dalles, said it is also important for ranchers to begin removing bone piles and carcasses that can attract wolves.
“It’s very likely we’ve had wolves pass through this county,” he said. “If we haven’t we will in short order. I get a lot of reports about wolf sighting and most are coyote but some are hard to discredit on the face of it.”
He said there has been some debate over whether the tracks discovered on Mount Hood were those of a gray wolf or hybrid.
Thompson urged any rancher with an unusual death scene, involving either livestock or elk, to call his office at the first opportunity. He can be reached at 541-296-4628.
“Every depredation is different. It can be pretty tough at first glance to figure out what it is,” he said.
He said if there is a wolf kill, USFW will take the lead on an investigation but his office will provide assistance.
“I think it would be great to have some kind of education (on a wolf kill scene) for all of us so we know what we’re looking at,” said rancher Stuart VonBorstel at last Wednesday’s meeting.
Magill said that he would sit down with livestock producers in the near future to discuss how a scene needed to be preserved.
Nantz said the association would also be providing ranchers with more information to help safeguard their herds.