With the local wolf population on the rise, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners decided Wednesday to set up a program that would help ranchers keep wolves at bay and compensate them if livestock are killed.
The county has yet to have any confirmed killings of livestock by wolves.
"It is inevitable at some point there will be some wolf depredation," Commissioner Rick Dyer said, noting there already may have been kills that could not be confirmed.
Wolf OR-7 journeyed to the Jackson County area after leaving the northeast corner of Oregon, where numerous packs established themselves after spreading from a wolf reintroduction program in Idaho in 1999.
OR-7 found a mate and the pair had pups in 2014 and 2015. The wolf family has been named the Rogue Pack.
Another wolf, OR-25, also traveled from northeast Oregon and arrived in Klamath County in 2015.
In 2014, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife investigated the death of a cow near Prospect in Jackson County but could not confirm the cause of death.
In 2015, ODFW investigated two injured calves and a dead calf in Klamath County and confirmed the injured calves were attacked by a wolf. There was little left of the dead calf for examination.
A radio collar on wolf OR-25 confirmed he was near or at the calf carcass several times, according to an ODFW investigation.
Counties with proven wolf depredation — especially those in northeast Oregon — annually get the lion's share of Wolf Management Compensation and Proactive Trust Fund money distributed by the state Department of Agriculture. Funding across Oregon typically hovers between $100,000 and $150,000 each year, the department reported.
Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said the county is likely to get only about $500 for the first year of its new Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance Program, which requires the county to set up a committee. That funding would cover the costs of administering the program.
"To receive more, we actually have to have confirmed depredations in the county," Jordan said.
But having the wolf depredation program in place will put the county in a position to apply for funds if livestock kills are confirmed, he said.
Commissioner Doug Briedenthal said in the past commissioners have held off on creating a wolf depredation committee and program.
But with more wolves in the area, taking the action now makes sense, he said.
"If we don't get ahead of it, we'll get behind it," Breidenthal said of the wolf depredation issue.
Commissioner Colleen Roberts said she recently talked to a stockman who found tracks from wolves that had trailed his livestock. She said setting up a wolf depredation committee and program is the right thing to do.
"It's a great step for the protection of our citizens and an industry," she said.
The statewide Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance Program compensates livestock owners for the loss of livestock and working dogs, and also helps pay for prevention efforts.
Prevention efforts include burying cow bone piles, setting up alarms that go off when radio-collared wolves approach livestock, sending range riders out on horseback or all-terrain vehicles and erecting fences.
Some ranchers breed their cows to give birth earlier, then delay turning cattle out onto the open range — giving calves time to grow larger before they face wolves.
The wolf-kill compensation program is not without its critics.
Ranchers have complained wolf kills are difficult to confirm, and compensation doesn't cover impacts such as lower birth rates and reduced weight gain among cows stressed by nearby wolves.
The Oregon Wild conservation group has said wolf compensation programs should be temporary as ranchers readjust to wolves that historically roamed the state. The group said ranchers don't win grant funding to cover predation from cougars and bears, and wolves should be no different.