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County wolf panel planned; members needed

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s report in February about wolf tracks found on the east side of Mount Hood has led local officials and ranchers to plan for the possibility of livestock kills.

“We want to have the wolf committee in place before anything happens so we can be proactive in solving issues and be ahead of the curve for our ranchers,” said Keith Nantz, a Maupin rancher who heads the North Central Livestock Association.

The association will meet to form the wolf committee at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, in the conference room of the Imperial River Company in Maupin, 304 Bakeoven Road.

The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management plan mandates that two livestock owners be seated on the committee, along with a county commissioner and two members of the public. These individuals have to be proponents of wolf recovery or neutral about the issue.

Once established, committee members will appoint two business people to the group.

Commissioner Steve Kramer, who resides in Dufur, will represent the county and can be reached by people wanting to serve on the committee at 541-506-2524 or via email at SteveK@co.wasco.or.us. Nantz can also be contacted for more information at 541-910-5179 or dlcc02@gmail.com

The state sets aside $200,000 per biennium to pay for the death of cattle, sheep, goats and other livestock that are confirmed to have been killed by wolves. These deaths have to be validated by law enforcement officers or regulatory agents, so Wasco County Chief Deputy Lane Magill is planning to have personnel trained to perform that task.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes the lead in confirming kills on the western side of the state where wolves are still federally listed as an endangered species. The population growth of wolves in the Northern Rockies has led to federal delisting on the eastern side of Oregon, but wolves are still protected under the state plan.

ODFW agents don’t know whether a wolf was just passing through the Mount Hood National Forest late last year or if the animal has taken up residency. Nantz said it is disturbing that the state’s wolf plan requires the agency to notify livestock owners as soon as a wolf shows up in their area – but news of these tracks was not released until almost three months later.

“They passed this law despite overwhelming objections from ranchers and now they aren’t doing what they need to do,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to hold our public agencies’ feet to the fire. We hold our integrity close at hand and so should they.”

Dufur rancher Mike Filbin thinks wolves might already be living on the mountain and responsible for the death of a cow two years ago. At that time, some of his 400-head herd were grazing on public land above Timothy Lake on the southern side of the mountain.

“We had just moved the cows to that meadow and they loved the place so I wondered what was wrong when I went back and they were gone,” he said. “Then we found what little was left of a carcass and saw how the ground was torn up around her. And none of the other cows would go back there that year.”

Two of his cowhands were witnesses to the carnage and Filbin consulted with authorities and was told the cow had probably been killed by a cougar, whose population has exploded since a ban on hunting with dogs and traps was enacted in 1994. But when he later conferred with Todd Nash, an Enterprise rancher who chairs the Wolf Committee for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, he was told the signs at the kill site were indicative of a wolf attack.

“I think wolves could already be here,” said Filbin. “You are going to have a hard time getting an idea about how many might be out there because they are secretive and there are a lot of places for them to hide because it’s awful brushy country.”

Nash, who has a 650-head herd, attended the February annual banquet of the local livestock association to warn Filbin and other ranchers to get ready for wolf problems.

He said it is difficult under the existing wolf plan to get official confirmation of a kill in order to 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 from a disease or some other cause.

A study 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 where cattle typically graze.

In addition to direct losses, which can run as high as $1,500 for a full-grown steer, Nash said there are uncompensated damages. He said herds stressed by the presence of wolves have lower fertility rates and reduced weight gain in calves.

He has calculated the loss from health problems tied to wolf-related stress, as well as manpower, prevention measures and fuel, to an average of about $260 per head.

Thirty percent of compensation that is awarded has to be spent on nonlethal prevention measures, such as guard dogs, electric or flagged fencing and radio-activated boxes that emit a noise when a collared wolf approaches.

Range riders are now patrolling ranch properties on the eastern border of Oregon to ward off an attack. ODFW recently reported the presence of 64 wolves in eight packs in the northeastern corner of the state.

As of Oct. 10, 2012, there were 81 livestock or domestic animals confirmed to have been killed or injured by Canadian gray wolves. The animals crossed the Idaho border, where they were reintroduced in 1995, and made Oregon their home during the early 2000s.

“The rules are set up to make it almost impossible to hunt a wolf that is killing livestock, so I think the problems of ranchers are only going to get worse,” Filbin said.

During a visit to the Chronicle March 18, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, whose Second Congressional District encompasses Wasco and Sherman counties, said ranchers should be given greater freedom to deal with livestock kills.

“The state either needs to manage the wolf population or let the ranchers do it,” he said.

Filbin said two cougars were euthanized by ODFW in March for killing goats and chickens in Eugene — and wolves that kill should also be removed without delay. Four wolves have been killed by ODFW or authorized agents since 2009.

Nash said before a hunt can take place, the rancher with a confirmed kill must prove that he or she tried to use nonlethal measures to thwart the attack. And no action can be taken to hunt the pack responsible until there are four confirmed kills within a six-month period. After that time period, the process begins anew. The state has also set a 45-day limit to complete any hunt that does take place.

The state’s wolf plan, advocated for by conservationists and adopted by ODFW in 2005, is up for its second five-year review in 2015. At that time, a public comment period will open up and ranchers will be provided with the opportunity to seek a modification to the rules.

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