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Wolf plan at final stage

Cattle ranchers protest federal government having last say

By CHARLES E. BEGGS Associated Press writer 9/19/05

SALEM The final plan for managing protected gray wolves that migrate into Oregon will prohibit ranchers from killing wolves that attack livestock and will not include compensation for losses to wolf attacks.

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission had included compensation and authority for killing wolves in the management plan adopted in February, pending approval by the Legislature needed to change state law.

But lawmakers failed to agree on those two provisions and bills to make the changes went nowhere. So the commission intends to remove them from the plan at a Nov. 4 meeting.

Wildlife officials say what remains is a solid plan, while cattle ranchers say it does nothing for them when the federal government has the final say, anyway.

The gray wolf is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, as well as under the state's equivalent law.

The proposed compensation fund and right-to-kill provisions of the plan "were about getting some additional tools into landowners' hands,'' said Craig Ely, wolf plan coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The rest of the wolf plan stands, he said, because it did not require legislative endorsement.

Under current law, wolves cannot be killed except in self-defense or by wildlife managers. Ranchers must contact federal authorities if their livestock is attacked and wait for an agent to decide if wolves were responsible and whether to harass or kill the animals involved.

Even if state law had been changed to give ranchers authority to kill wolves, federal law would have banned it until their protected status was downgraded from "endangered'' to "threatened.''

Without the change in state law, Ely said, livestock owners will be prohibited from killing wolves even if federal protection is reduced. Such a downgrade could occur once enough breeding wolf pairs are established in the state.

The wolf management plan sets a goal of seven breeding pairs in Eastern Oregon.

There have been no confirmed recent sightings of gray wolves in Oregon, Ely said. Between 1999 and 2000, at least three wolves made their way from Idaho into Oregon. One was hit by a car, one was shot, and one was captured and returned to Idaho.

Experts say it is just a matter of time before a pack takes up residence in Oregon.

Sharon Beck, a past president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association and La Grande area rancher, said Friday that the organization opposed the right-to-kill provision because it put too many restrictions on livestock owners.

The measure would have allowed ranchers to kill wolves only when caught "in the act'' of killing livestock. It would have been meaningless for ranchers whose herds can be scattered over hundreds or thousands of acres, she said.

Beck said many ranchers believe the state's general wildlife laws allows them to kill any species damaging their livestock, including wolves. But said she would expect a legal battle over the issue because of the federal protection for wolves.

She said she hopes federal wildlife officials would take steps to protect livestock if wolves migrate to Oregon.

The proposed legislation to change state law for the wolf management plan also would have also created a $200,000 state compensation fund for damage done by wolves. But Beck said compensation is not a high priority for ranchers.

"We want control of our lives and want to be left alone,'' she said. "If we can't protect our livestock, we don't have control of our lives.''




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

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