U.S. Rep. Greg Walden told ranchers from Wasco and Sherman counties July 3 that Oregon had been offered more wolves from Idaho.
He recounted the story shared by Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter during their recent conversation about wolf population management.
He said Otter had been tongue-in-cheek with the offer in 2012 to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. That proposal had been made after a hunter killed a wolf from an Oregon pack that had strayed across the border.
Otter was strongly opposed to the reintroduction of 70 timber wolves from Canada to Idaho and Montana in 1995. The wolf population in the Northern Rockies now tops 1,774 in 287 packs, according to federal wildlife experts, and Otter is pushing for more hunts due to a decline in elk and deer numbers.
“Gov. Otter offered 150 wolves to replace the one that was killed in Oregon,” said Walden, earning a chuckle from the audience.
The topic of wolves was the first broached at Thursday’s forum for ranchers that preceded a town hall meeting for other constituents.
Both sessions were held in a barn at the Dillon Land and Cattle Company in Dufur and drew about 85 people.
The recent wolf attack on a cow in summer pasture near Weston that was owned by a Sherman County rancher has raised the level of concern among area livestock owners.
Several local cattlemen told Walden they believed wolves had already established packs on or around Mount Hood. They expressed frustration about the federal “no kill” rule that made it difficult for them to protect their herds.
“It continues to be a real management problem,” agreed Walden, whose Second Congressional District includes 20 rural counties.
He said it was possible that wolves were spreading across the state, because they are known to travel long distances.
He said the fact that OR-7, also known as the “Lone Wolf” had found a mate and established a den during his journey from Oregon’s eastern border to the southern part of the state and into California was indicative of that reality.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife is considering de-listing of wolves as an endangered species on the western side of the state, Walden said, as had been done in the Northern Rockies and eastern Oregon, in 2011.
“I’ve always felt that de-listing would allow problems to be taken care of at the local level,” he said. However, he said livestock owners in Oregon counties that border Idaho, where wolves had come from, were finding state protection regulations to be just as “problematic.”
Although wolf hunts are authorized by Oregon’s management plan, there have to be four confirmed attacks in separate incidents within a six-month period. Any hunt allowed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has to take place within 45-days, which ranchers contend is almost impossible given the secretive nature of wolves and their forested habitat that provides deep cover.
“I’ve always felt that, once wolves and cougars showed up in Portland, we might have a change in urban attitudes,” said Walden.
“We get all this stuff out here like it’s somebody’s playground and I think there’s a real need for more education about how things work on the ground.”
He said it was important for government leaders to make decisions about endangered species based on sound science and with more consideration for people who would have their livelihoods adversely affected.
The problem facing the House, he said, is that more than 40 bills had been approved to fix “broken” federal policy, such as the Endangered Species Act, but the Senate refused to consider them.
He said these pieces of legislation sought to cut increasingly burdensome red tape that is harming family businesses and ranchers and, in some cases, create jobs.
“Everything’s been piling up in the Senate because they don’t want to take these tough votes, so that’s frustrating,” said Walden.
With Northern spotted owl critical habitat designations causing a 90 percent decline in federal timber harvests during the last 30 years, Walden said it is important that listing of the Greater Sage Grouse, now under consideration, not have the same devastating economic impact on the beef industry.
“The effect of the sage grouse’s listing could make the spotted owl look like child’s play,” he said.
He said environmental activists need to be stopped from making money by filing challenges to species’ protection.
According to Walden, $2.2 billion was paid in 2011 to special interest groups that used the Equal Access for Justice Act to recoup legal fees after wins or settlements with the federal government.
“The (Obama) Administration won’t talk about any of these concerns, so that’s been frustrating as well,” he said.
Walden said GOP leaders had decided to sue President Barack Obama based on the belief that he is operating outside of his constitutional authority. He believes the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against Obama’s “recess appointments” of officials to the National Labor Relations Board is illustrative of the problem.
In addition, he said 30 changes have been made to the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, by the president without input from Congress, which is the lawmaking body.
“This notion that he can do whatever he wants even has Democrats spun up,” said Walden.
When asked what citizens could do to push for change, he said, “Elections have consequences and that is what we are facing now.”
Although the majority of those in attendance July 3 appeared in agreement with Walden, he and other GOP leaders were chastised by Dufur ranchers Paul and Dixie Schanno for not doing enough to address immigration issues.
She said it was important to the survival of the nation’s agricultural industry that a legal path be found for workers to come from Mexico and other South American countries.
Walden said Obama had called House Speaker John Boehner to inform him that Democrats would not consider immigration reform prior to the November election.
He said the flood of children illegally crossing the borders of southern states to escape violence in South America is creating a “humanitarian crisis” that needs to be addressed at the federal level. Without securing the borders, the U.S. could not truly deal with a major national security issue.
“When we have border control agents changing diapers, something’s out of control,” said Walden.
The Schannos and several other constituents, some from Hood River, said Walden and other Republicans need to “come together” with Democrats to find solutions to the nation’s problems.
“Everything is a political decision instead of what’s right,” said Dixie. “We need a hero, we need you to be our hero.”
Walden said almost every major piece of legislation that he has sponsored, such as a bill to expand wilderness areas on Mount Hood, had been bi-partisan.
However, he said agreements were not always possible due to ideological differences.
“We all come with a voting card given to us by our constituents,” he said, reiterating that seven out of 12 appropriations bills that had originated in the House had died upon reaching the Senate.
Walden was also asked questions about education and the status of the Government Accountability Office investigation into the Cover Oregon website failure.
He said there was a need for more vocational programs in schools because many students excelled in the building trades and similar programs, but did not want to go to college.
Walden said the FBI and Department of Justice are now involved in the Cover Oregon investigation.
He said the board of directors needs to be held responsible for the taxpayer expenditure of $248 million into a health insurance exchange that never worked.