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Ranchers: Wolf Trouble

OR-11, a male pup (born spring 2011) from the Walla Walla pack, waking up from anesthesia after being radio-collared on Oct. 25, 2011. 	Photo courtesy ODFW

OR-11, a male pup (born spring 2011) from the Walla Walla pack, waking up from anesthesia after being radio-collared on Oct. 25, 2011. Photo courtesy ODFW

First of two stories: Read part 2, Wolves on the Move, in Wednesday's Chronicle.

Cattle are raised for human consumption but it goes against the creed of any cowboy to have the animals mauled by wolves and die in terror.


Oregon Cattlemen's Association wolf committee chairman Todd Nash speaks at a North Central Livestock Association meeting, which serves Wasco and Sherman counties. Projected on a screen behind him is an ODFW map showing confirmed areas of wolf activity in Oregon.

Oregon wolves

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife photo and video galleries are available.

“We treat our herd as humanely as possible. It isn’t in our character to have our cows ripped apart and stand by while something kills them. This violates our way of life,” said Enterprise rancher Todd Nash at a recent meeting in Maupin.

Members of the North Central Livestock Association, which serves Wasco and Sherman counties, nodded in agreement as Nash continued, painting a picture of what will likely become an all-too-familiar scenario in the region as wolves continue to move through and eventually settle in the area.

Nash has a 650-head herd and chairs the Wolf Committee for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, of which the North Central association is a branch. He told the 60 area ranchers gathered in mid-February to expect problems down the road as the wolf population in Eastern Oregon continues to grow and regulatory roadblocks make it difficult to hunt depredating packs.

A brutal reality

His presentation included graphic photos of cattle killed by wolves, including pregnant cows. Evidence at one kill showed that a cow had attempted to crawl away as her fetus – a delicacy for wolves – was eaten right out of her womb.

“What would animal rights people say if we ripped our cattle apart?” asked Nash. “Yet they are not only willing for wolves to do that, but they don’t want us to even be able to defend our domestic animals from an attack.”

During a late snowstorm, one Eastern Oregon rancher found wolf tracks on his porch in front of the kennel where the family dog spends the night, he said. Because the shelter was sturdy enough to thwart an attack, the dog was uninjured.

If the pet had been on a chain in the open yard, Nash added, the rancher would not have been able to protect it from certain death. It is not allowable by state protection rules to even hit a wolf with a rock to drive it away, he explained. The most a landowner can do in that situation is throw a rock in the general direction of the wolf, or use some other non-injuring measure, to scare it off.

If a wolf is caught in the act of biting, wounding or killing livestock, or a working cow dog, the animal can be shot under current rules, but that is an unlikely scenario given that wolves are secretive and hunt at night, said Nash.

“Our reality is horrifying; it is a really frightening situation for a lot of people now,” said Nash, who has lost multiple cows and calves to wolves, and has suffered the economic and emotional toll of that predation.

A compromise plan

Rob Klavins, wildlife advocate for Oregon Wild, a conservation group, said the state has come up with a “compromise plan” to prevent ongoing litigation, first filed by Oregon Wild (and other conservation groups) about five years ago, over wolves in Oregon.

He said the legislature currently allocates $200,000 per biennium for compensation of livestock losses due to wolf predation. Thirty percent of any claim must be used on nonlethal defenses, such as electric fencing, that will aid in the co-existence of wolves and livestock.

Not enough

Nash said the cattlemen’s association walked away from the table when the plan was being put together because it was “disingenuous.” The “compromise” allows conservationists to claim that they are working with ranchers — but that is not the reality, he said.

For example, he said it is extremely difficult for a rancher to have a livestock kill qualify for compensation. On large ranges, the carcass is usually missing altogether, or has started to decompose by the time it is found, making it more difficult to spot signs of a struggle, tracks or scat.

Officials then have to determine whether the animal was actually killed by a predator or if it was just scavenged by one after dying of a disease or some other cause.

Last year, the Oregon Department of Agriculture paid $62,820 in seven counties for livestock kills by predators.

Nash said a study performed in Idaho by John Oakleaf, an academic researcher, and published in the Journal of Wildlife Management in 2003, found that only one in every eight wolf kills could be confirmed in more remote areas.

In addition to direct losses, which can run as high as $1,500 for a full-grown steer, Nash said there are other economic losses caused by stress after wolves have attacked a herd. He said uncompensated damages can be several times higher than an actual kill and include lower weight gain in calves and reduced fertility among cows.

A January report by the University of Montana faculty and graduate students found that, after a confirmed wolf kill for a ranch consisting of 264 head of calves, a decrease of 22 pounds in average weight took place. That implied a $6,679 loss at sale for the affected rancher.

Nash has calculated the costs of “running with wolves,” which includes injuries and health problems among the herd, as well as manpower, prevention measures and fuel, as averaging about $260 per head.

A long way from recovery


Areas of known wolf activity are shown in Oregon. Wolf tracks have since been confirmed on the east slopes of Mount Hood.

Klavins noted that wolves were nearly wiped out of the lower 48 states by the 1930s due largely to the problems they caused for ranchers.

In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced 35 Canadian gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park and the same number in central Idaho.

By 2011 the wolf population in those two states, plus Wyoming, Oregon and Washington, had topped 1,600 and the federal government dropped the Endangered Species Act listing for the Northern Rockies.

Wolves remain on Oregon’s protected species list and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife manages eight packs comprising 64 wolves east of U.S. Highways 395, 95 and 78. Wolves are still federally listed to the west of that area and a no-kill rule is in place.

“We’re a long way from meaningful recovery, but I generally think we’re doing things right in Oregon,” said Klavins. “There is huge support in this state for wolf recovery and I think we’re doing it in a way that also factors in the needs of ranchers.”

A moving target

Nash disagrees, and noted that once a pack has learned to hunt cattle, nonlethal methods are ineffective at stopping them. Ranchers have tried fladry, strips of fabric tied to fences that flap the breeze, electric fences, range riders and electronic alert systems keyed to wolf collars, among other methods, but none has proven more than temporarily effective.

State rules to allow the elimination of wolves that kill cattle are a “moving target” that is rarely attainable, he added.

The landowner of a confirmed kill must prove that he or she tried to use nonlethal measures to thwart an attack, and no action can be taken until there are four confirmed kills by the same pack within a six-month period. After six months, the process starts anew. The state has also set a 45-day limit to complete any hunt that does take place.

“I don’t know how much more you can do to protect your animals; these packs are dynamic,” he said. “When this was happening in Idaho, I thought it would never happen here but it did and now I tell ranchers across Oregon that it’s going to be them some day.”

To date, four wolves have been killed by ODFW or authorized agents since 2009.

Killing questioned

Klavins said conservationists filed a legal challenge about five years ago against further killing of wolves and the current management plan is a mitigation measure.

He said no party was entirely happy with the outcome of negotiations in 2013, but it is the most workable solution to the challenge.

“The wolf plan allows us to kill an endangered species on behalf of the livestock industry and I think that’s significant,” he said.

“For many, wolves are a symbol of freedom and hikers and campers want to hear their howls as part of the outdoor experience,” said Klavins. “We see a lot of wolf hysteria out there. There are a lot of people who want to vilify them.”

Nash noted that it would be educational for hikers and campers to see the aftermath of gore left by a wolf pack that has literally torn a cow apart.

“Wolf tourism should include dead and wounded game and livestock as well as the horrified look on the rancher’s face,” he said.

A Rancher's Life is a year-long series by reporter RaeLynn Ricarte and photographer Mark B. Gibson of The Dalles Chronicle. Here are the stories so far:

A Rancher's Life and A 'big picture' outlook started the series January 25, 2014.

All in a Day's Work and Moving cows is just the beginning were published February 12, with Weathering the storms. An audio slideshow, Working cows, was also published in February.

March started with a look at wolves in two parts, Wolf trouble and Wolves on the move. It continues with Springs promise, a look at calves and spring on the ranch.

An editorial, "More defenses needed," wrapped up coverage on this issue.

May started with the story exploring the trouble faced by one ranch, whose story is told in new feature-length movie screened locally in Hood River. One family member currently lives in The Dalles, and in "A Place to call Home" she tells her story.

May also featured multiple stories addressing the issue of public grazing, an issue researched by reporter RaeLynn Ricarte for over four months. The issue is first explored in"Battle rages over grazing rights." Much of this battle has been fought in court, and "Taxpayers foot the bill of resource lawsuits" explores one aspect of this battle. Additional stories followed: Seeking balance on our public lands, A place for cattle, Activist disputes accusation of fee gouging, An embattled system,and Walden: Scrutiny need on species regulation.

The May presentation ended with an editorial expressing the need for public grazing in the western states, Resources to Thrive.

A special section, Farm and Ranch, further broadened and expanded the series in June. it is available as a .pdf document: Farm and Ranch.

As July brings hot dry weather, it's a great time to explore the impact water, and a lack of water, has on the ranch community. Water is a precious commodity in Eastern Oregon. Ditch walker Sam Cobb is in charge of how the water in water stored in Rock Creek Reservoir is distributed in the article "Ditch Walker: Water is gold, here"

In August, the second edition of Farm and Ranch explored the stories and people behind some of the brands in the region.

Water issues were further explored in August, with three-part presentation:

State and federal rules water rules impact ranchers throughout the region. Water dispute boils explores state regulations and how they impact ranch operations. A related story looks at a study launched by ranchers working with OSU to study water issues in arid and semi-arid lands.

Federal proposals to change or clarify what waters are under federal jurisdiction has many agriculturalists worried, and represents yet another clash over water.

Locally, efforts are being made to work collaboratively to improve water quality on 15-mile creek for both fish and farmers. The creek is used for irrigation.


scooter929 3 years, 10 months ago

     The Smackout pack in NE suppose to be the model pack.  Let's make a few items a little more public. Conservation Northwest is paying for the range rider for the farmer. The range rider is the farmers daughter. Conservation Northwest  paid the this farmer a very large amount of money for a coservation easement for the farmers property... Conservation Northwest has a lot of influence on WDFW, the same as Cascadia wildlands does on ODFW.

One of the collared Smackout wolves was shot in NE Wa and Conservation Northwest has a $7500 reward for the shooter. Will be interesting if they catch the person.... Ironic though that 40 miles to the east, Idaho is paying professional hunters to kill the wolves. 20 miles to the north, Canadians can hunt and kill the same wolves.


Catchalot 3 years, 10 months ago

A few mistakes in this story:

Despite what Nash said, the Oregon Cattlemen's Assoc did NOT walk away from the compromise. They approved it:

NO cattle have been attacked in Wallowa County ever when protected by fladry, and ranchers use it regularly to protect their stock.

All the expense of nonlethal tools is paid for by the state, using funds mostly provided by federal grants. Fladry, range riders, radio-activated guard boxes, shotguns and cracker shells, cow bells, costs of removing bone piles - all paid by the taxpayer. And of course lost, killed and injured stock are compensated at full market value. This includes stock "missing" at round-up. Tax credits are available for the full market value of confirmed stock losses.

All the money spent on collaring wolves, reporting their locations to ranchers, maintaining observation of packs and sometimes lethal removal is spent on behalf or ranchers. Ranchers receive constant text and email messages of wolf locations, some have state-supplied radio receivers to give the alarm if collared wolves are present.

Todd Nash "calculates" a loss of $260/head due to wolf presence but has no basis for such a calculation. No study has been completed or published that has found such losses. Much of the expense he ascribed to wolves is part of the daily routine of livestock producers properly managing their cattle.

Coloring all of Nash's statements is the special status some ranchers feel they are owed by their fellow citizens. They feel they have the right to order the wildlife of our state to their liking despite the opinion of the majority of citizens, who have repeatedly supported a viable wolf population. Cattlemen are not an "entitled" aristocracy in Oregon, they have to abide by the majority. And the majority has bent over backward with tax dollars to ease the transition to a healthy landscape containing its proper bio-diversity. Rather than appreciate the fairness displayed by Oregon taxpayers, they remain resentful and convinced of their entitlement.

Ranchers receive tremendous subsidies from the federal government, including bargain basement grazing on public lands ($1.60/head/month), cash subsidies, tax subsidies, free insurance, and more. Wallowa County, Nash's home, received $45.9 million in subsidies from 1995 - 2012, $642,000 in 2012.

Ranchers willing to try have found they can live with wolves and continue their way of life. But some stockmen are damned if they'll adjust. They want things the way they used to be, when they ran the state, when they exterminated every wolf, every pup, by poison, gunshot, trap, and club, with no thought of the effect on Oregon's ecological health, no conception even of allowing room for all Oregon's wildlife.

Those days are over, things have changed for the better, but these particular Oregonians will resent it 'till their last day.


julierl 3 years, 10 months ago

The ranching "way of life" is just as brutal as anything Nature can cook up. USA's wild heritage is not a fair exchange for tonight's fast food burger. Ranchers should familiarize themselves with the term "cost of doing business" and come to Jesus on the concept of co-existence. Most pro-wolf citizens are well aware of the way animals (including wolves) hunt and its outcome. Many/most are far more sickened by what goes on in a cattle slaughterhouse. If a rancher isn't also disgusted by cattle slaughter, how can he possibly be horrified by a wolf hunt? Give me a break.


birdpond 3 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, ranchers don't want to see their cattle abused or torn apart - Until they sell them to a slaughterhouse, where they are often skinned alive, throats slit and dismembered while still conscious, screaming in agony and flailing to try to escape the torture.

Very strange mind-set in these people, when they will kill any 'cruel' or 'evil' wild animal who dares even look at their herds, when ultimately the whole point is to treat all this livestock as so many mobile steaks just being prepared for our gluttony. Even newborn baby calves and sheep aren't sacred, being routinely discarded carelessly and barbarically by these very same self-proclaimed 'humane' ranchers.

Just sayin'.


birdpond 3 years, 10 months ago

I agree, Julierl! In a slaughterhouse, these animals are routinely skinned and hacked apart while still alive, conscious and thrashing/flailing in agony. Yet these caring, compassionate ranchers have no trouble selling their beloved cattle to slaughter. In fact, that's the entire point of their participation in the industry.

(same with sheep, pigs and, in fact, all livestock bred for human consumption. I guess what these people mean is, only humans are allowed to brutalize whatever species we wish to eat, hunt, trap or fight for our pleasure, and only we are permitted to brutally eliminate competition for same - competition being wild animals struggling to survive,. Nothing else on the planet has a right to eat meat, it seems, be it fish, fowl or on the hoof. Yes, we are so flippin' important, nothing else has a right to anything).


markbgibson 3 years, 10 months ago

A recent Letter to the Editor addresses some of the slaughter issues mentioned in the comments above:


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