By Casey O'Hara
Oregon protects its small population of gray wolves under the state Endangered Species Act. But conserving the re-established species can cost ranchers when their livestock is killed or injured.
On Wednesday, the Oregon Department of Agriculture approved $150,830, including $63,125 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as part of the Oregon Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance County Block Grant Program.
These funds will be distributed to eight eastern Oregon counties with designated "Areas of Known Wolf Activity" to reimburse livestock producers for animals lost to wolves and to pay for non-lethal techniques to deter and prevent wolf attacks.
More than 90 percent of the funding went to the three counties that host the bulk of Oregon's wolf population: Wallowa, Umatilla, and Baker.
During the compensation cycle, which covers incidents from March 2013 to March 2014, only two counties experienced livestock deaths and injuries due to wolf attacks, as determined by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. To settle these claims and repay ranchers for their losses, the state awarded $8,482 split between Wallowa county ($7,482) and Umatilla county ($1,000).
An additional $33,878 was divided among eight counties as a pass-through block grant to compensate ranchers for suspected wolf-related losses. These losses are determined from the number of missing livestock above and beyond average historical levels.
County officials determine the amount repaid to ranchers for their lost livestock. "All counties use multiple indices, including auction prices, to determine what the market value is at the time," said Jason Barber, ODA Weights and Measures administrator. "But there are probably indirect costs to the ranchers that the system will never capture."
The state will grant the bulk of the funds, $105,500, to the eight counties to support mitigation activities to minimize wolf attacks upon livestock. The competitive grant process relies on ODFW data, maps of identified packs, and information provided by the counties within grant applications. Typical deterrence activities include:
- Attractant reduction, including bone pile removal and carcass disposal sites.
- Barrier building, such as fencing, fladry and electrified fladry.
- Human presence, including range riders, herders or other guarding.
- Livestock protection dogs and other guarding animals.
- Alarms and scare devices, including radio-activated guard devices and other light and sound making devices.
- Hazing and harassment, including loud noises, spotlights and other confrontation.
- Livestock management/husbandry changes, such as changing pastures, night feeding, reduced calving period, earlier birthing and changing herd structure.
- Experimental practices, such as bio-fencing and putting bells on cattle.
Five counties were awarded a total of $2,970 to cover implementation costs.
For the 2015 grant cycle, the ODA recently applied for a $53,000 wolf-livestock demonstration grant from the USFWS. Recent livestock losses reported since March 2014 will be reimbursed in the 2015 compensation cycle.
As of the end of 2013, Oregon's wolf population is estimated at 64 wolves across 8 packs, a dramatic increase over 2012's population of 46 wolves in 6 packs. Recent reports from the ODFW indicate likely new breeding pairs in eastern and southern Oregon. These new packs, if confirmed, will be accounted for within next year's block grant cycle.