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.: Corvallis Gazette-Times :. News
Wolf plan will likely wait at least two years

Legislators unable to agree on a bill to make it easier for ranchers to kill animals

Associated Press writer

SALEM — Wolves will come to Oregon, like it or not. But a state law spelling out what ranchers can do to protect their livestock from wolves — an endangered species — will probably have to wait at least two years.

Legislators have been unable to agree on a bill that was intended to make it easier for ranchers to kill wolves that were attacking livestock.

Because wolves are protected under the state and federal Endangered Species acts, under current law ranchers would have to contact federal authorities if their livestock is attacked, then wait for an agent to determine if wolves were responsible and whether to harass or kill those involved.

A bill and amendments that were considered by a House committee would have connected Oregon's classification of wolves to the federal government's. So if the federal government relaxed classification of wolves to protected status instead of endangered, farmers would be able to kill wolves caught killing their livestock.

The legislation would have also created a $200,000 compensation fund for damage done by wolves and would have prevented trappers from being sued if they accidentally killed a wolf while trapping for other animals.

The legislation didn't have enough votes to make it out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Sheep ranchers and farmers' groups supported the legislation.

"We're going to have wolves come over from Idaho ... and we need to have some tools and some plans to manage them,'' said Katie Fast, a lobbyist with the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation, which supported the plan, along with sheep growers' groups and wildlife preservation advocates.

Cattle ranchers in Oregon stand to lose as much as sheep ranchers when wolves enter the state, but the cattlemen's group didn't feel the bill provided enough protection for their members.

"In our opinion, the plan and the rules don't go far enough in allowing our producer members to protect against livestock,'' said Kevin Westfall of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

"All we're asking is don't make criminals out of our ranchers trying to protect our livestock,'' Westfall said.

Rep. Patti Smith, chairwoman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said she thought the bill had merit, especially concerning the $200,000 in general fund money that would have compensated ranchers who lost livestock to wolves.

"I do think without the enabling legislation, we put all owners or landowners in jeopardy,'' the Corbett Republican said.

But she said the bill didn't have the votes to emerge from the now-closed committee. Smith said she intends to work on the issue between now and the 2007 session if the bill doesn't pass this session.

Brett Brownscombe, a lawyer with the Hells Canyon Preservation Council based in Northeast Oregon, where wolves will likely first enter the state from Idaho, supports the proposed legislation and would like action on it this session.

"Despite the consensus between a large number of organizations and individuals, the Legislature and the Oregon Cattlemen's Association are preventing key elements of the plan from ... being carried forward,'' Brownscombe said.

Gray wolves, native to Oregon but killed off in the 1930s, were reintroduced to the Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho beginning in 1995, and have thrived since. There are now more than 400 in Idaho, and, as their numbers increase, the predators are expected to move into Oregon.

Craig Ely, a wolf specialist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that without the bill, farmers and ranchers will need to work with the federal — not state — government if they have a wolf problem.

"In my opinion, it's going to be difficult for the federal government because they have no plan for wolf management'' in Oregon, Ely said.

On the other hand, Ely said Oregon's plan has been carefully drafted to ensure a balanced approach to wolf management.

Westfall, with the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, argued the bill would have allowed ranchers to kill wolves only at the time they were physically attacking an animal — not a minute before or after.

He said that meant ranchers would have to prove they killed the wolf at the right time — and potentially face a federal lawsuit if they couldn't.

Westfall said the organization doesn't feel a rush just yet for legislation — there haven't been any confirmed wolves in Oregon and he doesn't see the wolf being taken off the federal Endangered Species list anytime soon.

"We just want to protect our private property. If we can't do that, we're planning to hold the line,'' Westfall said.

"We're hearing from a lot of organizations (in states with wolves) ‘fight it with everything you have because you guys won't be in existence if you don't.'''

Rep. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, also opposed the bill and denied that it would have given ranchers more tools to help deal with encroaching wolves.

"We don't have the authority to let ranchers shoot wolves, and that ain't changing anytime soon. The federal government currently is managing it, regardless of what we do anyway,'' Boquist said.

He said states can get special permits from the federal government to allow wolves to be killed in certain circumstances, but that the bill likely would not have gotten Oregon closer to getting the exception because the state doesn't have any wolves confirmed here yet.

"If you're a federal bureaucrat and you want the wolf to be introduced to Oregon, you're not going to let us shoot wolf No. 1,'' Boquist said.

He also took issue with setting aside $200,000 for the compensation fund because he said it would open the door to others seeking compensation for livestock damage.

"We just need to have a broader discussion over time,'' about general fund money being used to compensate farmers for losses due to wildlife, Boquist said.

Boquist said he, too, believes there will be enough information and discussion by next session to pass a wolf bill.

"None of those issues were compelling public policy issues at this point given the circumstances,'' Boquist said.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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