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Witnesses weigh in on wolves

Mitch Lies
Oregon Staff Writer 5/20/05

SALEM – State wildlife officials remained optimistic this week that Oregon’s wolf plan can be implemented despite a steady stream of testimony opposing a bill needed to institute parts of the plan.

Without passage of legislation changing the status of the gray wolf to a special status mammal and allocating funds to compensate livestock owners for losses to wolf predation, Oregon’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan cannot be fully implemented.

The wolf plan, developed by an advisory committee and adopted by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, calls for the state to document wolf populations as they develop in Oregon and provide varying levels of protection for wolves based in part on population levels.

According to official documentation, no wolves currently are in Oregon, although officials believe some inhabit the state.

Under the plan, state wildlife officials will relax restrictions on taking, or killing, wolves after wolf populations reach four breeding pairs in Oregon – between 38 and 48 wolves.

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

The federal listing overrides some provisions of Oregon’s plan and restricts ranchers from taking wolves on public land – even if wolves are caught in the act of killing livestock.

Those restrictions and take restrictions in House Bill 3478 were at the root of criticism aired by farmers, ranchers and their representatives in testimony before the House Agriculture Committee May 16 and 18. Ranchers said they cannot agree to a bill that restricts them from protecting livestock from wolf predation and vowed to stop the bill unless the committee adopted their amendments.

“Let us defend our property. That’s all we ask,” said Glen Stonebrink, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. “A wolf is going to eat your entire herd before a rancher can get through all the hurdles and hoops that are in place in this bill.”

Farmers and ranchers also criticized two provisions in the compensation program being advanced in the bill.

Sharon Livingston, president-elect of the cattlemen’s association, said the bill puts unreasonable demands on livestock owners by requiring them to confirm losses from wolf predation. Often, she said, wolves carry away all evidence. And because her cattle graze in timber, finding evidence is nearly impossible.

“Those people advocating the return of wolves to Oregon have nothing to lose,” she said. “Their businesses will not be devastated by the loss of income or property.”

A provision that part of the $200,000 dedicated for compensation be spent on measures to prevent wolf predation also bothered cattlemen.

“They are going to ask you to change your management techniques to accommodate the wolf,” Stonebrink said. “We want to see a valid compensation program.”

Stonebrink added that compensation is not the preferred method of mitigating livestock losses from wolves.

“It’s never been our contention that we want compensation,” he said. “All we’ve asked for is we want to be able to defend our property against a predator that the state wants to protect.”

House Bill 3478 also met the objection of wolf advocates who claimed in testimony May 16 and 18 that it did not measure up with the plan adopted in February by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“We have already agreed to support a plan that falls short of the protections we believe the wolf requires and deserves,” said Ivan Molesky of the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We cannot support a bill that further denigrates those protections.”

Still, despite objections from both sides of the aisle, wildlife officials said they believe differences can be ironed out.

“We’re trying to talk to everybody and we’re working on amendments,” said Craig Ely, who is heading the wolf project for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The House Agriculture Committee took no action on the bill.

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





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