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Ranchers take aim at Oregon wolf reintroduction plan

Herald and News AP 12/12/04

Salem AP  Eastern Oregon ranchers complained Friday that a rule to manage the reintroduction of wolves into Oregon places too many restrictions on when ranchers can kill wolves that harm livestock

"You really need to say that we have the right to protect our livestock anytime, anyplace," said Mack Birkmaier, a rancher from the Joseph area.

Birkmaier was among 40 people, many of them ranchers, who testified at a state Fish and Wildlife Commission hearing on the draft rule.

Responding to changes in federal policy that are expected to cause wolves to migrate to Oregon from Idaho, the commission has drawn up a plan that would allow ranchers to ill wolves that attack their livestock.

Ranchers, however, said the plan is overly restrictive because it requires that ranchers actually observe a wolf attacking livestock before it could be killed.  La Grande-area rancher Bob Beck said it is unrealistic to require that wolves have to be attacking my stock right before my eyes before I can kill them."

"Clearly, your plan seeks to control my behavior in the face of an invasion of large predators into my grazing lands," he said.  "I hope you will see that this plan does not give me tools or options to deal with wolves that you insist are coming."

The draft rule drew praise from an Oregon Natural Resources Council spokesman, who said it would amount to a long overdue "welcome home" for wolves.

"Forty years ago we made a terrible mistake when we allowed the last wolf in Oregon to be shot to death under a misguided campaign of extermination," Jeremy Hall said.  "Today we have an historic opportunity to correct this by welcoming wolves home to Oregon."

The federal government downgraded wolf species protection after successfully establishing new wolf packs in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho.

State wildlife officials say there are reports of sightings but no confirmed wolves in Oregon yet.

Friday's hearing was the first of three scheduled by the fish and wildlife panel before Feb. 11, when it is to make a final decision on the plan.  The state would adopt a federal policy allowing ranchers to shoot wolves they see attacking livestock on private land and to get permits to do so on public lands.

The change also would require action by the 2005 Legislature to revise the state's endangered species law to allow ranchers to shoot wolves in limited circumstances.

Elsewhere in the West, the federal government is requiring Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to each submit acceptable plans for managing wolves before removing the animals from Endangered Species Act protection.

Plans from Idaho and Montana have been accepted.  But the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is protesting Wyoming's plan to classify wolves as trophy game animals with strict protections in northwest Wyoming and as predators in the rest of the state--where they could be shot more or less on sight.  In Alaska, meantime, state officials have begun issuing permits for aerial hunters to kill wolves in parts of Alaska in an effort to boost moose and caribou populations.

Officials want to cull about 500 wolves in various parts of the state to control their numbers this winter.  Alaska's wolf population is estimated at 8,000 to 11,000 and hunters and trappers kill an average of 1500 a year, officials said.  The aerial hunting program is being protested by wildlife advocacy groups.

 

 

 

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