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Farm Bureau backs new version of wolf bill

Mitch Lies, Oregon Staff Writer 6/10/05

SALEM – The Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Sheep Growers Association have joined the ranks in support of a wolf bill that cattlemen still oppose.

The House Agriculture Committee, meanwhile, was still undecided earlier this week whether it would back a bill that supporters say will provide livestock owners a wolf depredation compensation program and put the state in position to manage the gray wolf once it is downlisted.

State wildlife officials, meanwhile, remained optimistic that lawmakers would pass the bill needed to implement parts of a management plan that the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted earlier this year.

An amended version of House Bill 3478 that was unveiled in a hearing before the committee last week was introduced as a compromise among other groups, the Sheep Growers, the Farm Bureau, state wildlife officials, the Oregon Hunters Association and an environmental group.

The bill was hailed at the hearing by an official from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a model for other states to follow.

“It is an outstanding plan,” Kemper McMaster, state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said of Oregon’s plan. He said that if implemented, the plan could provide a steppingstone to promote the conservation of the gray wolf in the West and could facilitate federal efforts to downlist the wolf.

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, however, was unimpressed. Glen Stonebrink, executive director of the association, said take restrictions in the bill were too severe, and he urged the committee to table any action on the bill.

HB3478 would put into play provisions of the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan that the state Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted in February. Some provisions in the bill, however, including the opportunity for ranchers to take, or kill, wolves caught attacking livestock, would not come into play until the animal is downlisted from endangered to threatened or delisted by the federal government.

The gray wolf currently is listed as endangered under federal and state laws.

Committee chairwoman Patti Smith, R-Corbett, said committee members were all over the board in their positions on the bill. In general, she said, members liked certain provisions of the bill and disliked others – though not necessarily the same provisions. She said the committee might move the bill to the House Budget Committee without making a recommendation.

The Farm Bureau originally opposed the bill, but it came out in support of last week’s amended version.

“If we like it or not, we will have wolves migrating into Oregon,” testified Katie Fast, an assistant director of government affairs for the bureau. “We would rather be proactive and have the state involved in some of the management activities ... rather than shoot, shovel and shut up.”

Fast added that the compensation program advanced in the bill is important to the Farm Bureau’s members.

“Livestock owners are unable to protect their livestock with the tools they currently have due to the restrictions of the federal listing,” she said.

Stonebrink, meanwhile, said the amendments being promoted by the working group do nothing to improve the legislation, and in fact make it worse.

“This legislation, the wolf plan and the rules passed by the commission I guarantee you will make ranchers criminals if they attempt to defend their livestock,” he said.

The compromise legislation included two new wrinkles that Fast said the Farm Bureau viewed as important. Under the new version, once the wolf is downlisted under the federal Endangered Species Act, ranchers won’t be required to obtain a permit before taking wolves caught attacking livestock. Under the old version, ranchers were required to obtain the permit except under special permission from the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Also, the new version removed a provision that allowed the Fish and Wildlife Commission to reduce compensation for livestock owners suffering repeat wolf depredation losses if a rancher hadn’t implemented techniques to discourage wolf depredation after the first incident.

Rep. Smith said earlier this week that she was debating whether to take up the bill in a meeting on Friday, postpone taking action on the bill until next week, or abandon attempts at reaching a compromise and drop the bill altogether.

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






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