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Wolf adds burden to busy wildlife agents

Mitch Lies
Oregon Staff Writer, Capital Press 5/31/05

USDA Wildlife Service specialists are ready and willing, but they may not be able to take on additional predator control responsibilities associated with the arrival of the gray wolf in Oregon.

Under a wolf management plan before the Oregon Legislature, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is proposing that $200,000 be set aside to compensate livestock owners for losses caused by wolves. But no money is earmarked to pay for the agents who are expected to determine if wolves caused the losses. And according to Dave Williams, state director of USDA Wildlife Service, agents already are stretched thin.

“If we don’t have additional funds, our ability to fulfill the role prescribed to us in the wolf plan is questionable,” Williams said.

Under the plan that went before lawmakers in two hearings last week, ranchers are paid on a sliding scale for wolf predation based in part on whether agents rate the kill as confirmed by wolves or probable.

Three of the most at-risk counties, however, have no wildlife service agent. And getting an agent to a scene as quickly as possible is critical, Williams said. “Ideally, you’re there within 24 hours,” Williams said. “It’s just like going to a crime scene – you want to get there as soon as possible.”

Operating under the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, federal wildlife service agents are funded from a variety of state and federal sources, including the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and USDA. A major portion of their funding, however, comes from counties; and only counties that pay for an agent get one.

To date, 25 agents serve 24 Oregon counties. Among the counties that don’t have agents are Baker, Union and Grant, three counties expected to be inhabited by wolves in the near future.

While Williams said agents can be dispatched from bordering counties to assess wolf predation, he doubts that the bordering counties will support the activities for any length of time.

“They are going to say that we don’t accept that our person that we fund is going into those counties to inspect situations that we object to in the first place. That is going to be the political reality,” Williams said.

Williams estimated that he needs $125,000 to put a person on the ground to deal specifically with wolves. The money would go in part toward educating livestock owners on how to identify wolf damage, how to preserve evidence of wolf damage and how to lessen the chance of livestock losses to wolves.

The $125,000 is included in the state plan adopted by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in February of this year, but no mention of the money is in the bill lawmakers are addressing.

Under the state’s management plan, agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also could be called on to confirm wolf predation of livestock. But Williams said that outside his agents, the only wildlife agent with experience in identifying wolf predation is a USFWS agent in Boise.

Mitch Lies is based in Salem. His e-mail address is mlies@capitalpress.com.

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