Two eastern Oregon ranchers to try new strategy with wolves

SALEM, Ore. — Two ranchers in eastern Oregon are working with the state to test a new strategy for preventing livestock attacks by wolves with the hope of breaking an impasse between conservationists and ranchers on how to manage the predators.

Rodger Huffman, president of the Union County Cattlemen’s Association, and Cynthia Warnock, president of the Wallowa County Stockgrowers Association, will develop plans that emphasize non-lethal methods such as range riders, alarm boxes and electrified fencing to keep wolves away from their livestock, the Capital Press reported Thursday.

If wolves continue to attack, then ranchers could ask the state to kill them – a more streamlined approach than currently exists, the newspaper reported.

The ranchers agreed to test the idea, but it’s still unclear who would pay for the non-lethal tools and whether or not the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has the staff and resources to monitor individual wolf plans for all farmers and ranchers affected by the predators.

The proposal was outlined by stakeholders who are trying to find common ground on a five-year update of the state’s wolf conservation and management plan, which is now three years overdue.

Participants in the work group include a mix of farming, ranching, hunting and environmental interests, led by Deb Nudelman, a professional mediator hired from Portland.

ODFW staff wrote a draft seven-step strategy, which they presented back to the group during a conference call Nov. 5. It essentially calls for wildlife biologists to meet with farmers and ranchers on the ground and help them select non-lethal wolf deterrents based on individual operations and geography.

Producers would not be eligible for a kill order if they do not have a conflict deterrence plan in place, though they could still apply for state compensation for lost or dead animals.

Wolf advocates say the site-specific plans will prioritize and make the best use of non-lethal tools, while ranchers hope the proposal gives them a quicker and clearer path to dealing with problem wolves.

“I think we all want to make sure that whatever end product we have is as clear and transparent as possible for everybody,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Huffman, who ranches in Union, Oregon, where wolves from the Catherine pack are active, said it remains to be seen if ranchers themselves would bear the added cost of the non-lethal deterrants.

Before wolves returned to Oregon, Huffman said he checked on cattle once every few weeks. Now, he checks on cattle at least three times per week, and sometimes even that is not enough.

State wildlife officials have investigated one dead calf on his property, in 2016, though by the time they found the animal after five days it was too late to confirm it as a wolf kill.

“There really wasn’t much left of it,” Huffman said.

Warnock’s ranch near Imnaha, Oregon, is also frequented by wolves in far northeast Wallowa County.

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