By STEPHEN FLOYD
Herald and News
KLAMATH FALLS — Local ranchers want to know more about fighting back against wolves and less about coexisting with them.
They voiced their frustrations during a session hosted at the Klamath County Fairgrounds, which was meant to educate residents about nonlethal wolf deterrents and how the predators affect the health and behavior of livestock.
The Wednesday seminar was organized by OSU’s Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center to highlight increasing wolf populations in and around Klamath County. Featured were speakers from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and OSU Wallowa County Extension Service.
The largest numbers of Oregon wolves are in the northeastern portion of the state, with wolf populations east of Pendleton delisted as endangered by federal regulators. In Southern Oregon, the only known wolves are the Rogue Pack and Silver Lake Wolves, which have much lower populations than needed for delisting.
When asked how many wolves it would take to delist the species in Southern Oregon, Elizabeth Willy, with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said there is no specific number and the matter is left to the discretion of federal regulators. She said an attempt was made in 2013 to delist gray wolves after reevaluating their populations, but those attempts were challenged and subsequently defeated in court.
Tom Collom, with Oregon Fish and Wildlife, said federal delisting would not automatically mean ranchers could kill wolves. He said the state would still manage wolf populations and, in areas where wolf packs are numerous, Oregon is currently allowing kills only in instances of chronic livestock killings.
Collom said future wolf management policy could allowed limited takes but no such policy is currently being considered.
That news was frustrating for many attendees at the seminar, who believe they are being forced to live with wolves by policymakers who have no understanding of or investment in livestock production. Suzy Watkins, of Chiloquin, asked Willy why wolves were reintroduced to the U.S. to begin with. Willy said it was the result of programs created through the Endangered Species Act allowing for repopulation programs.
“The point is to reintroduce those animals back into the landscape,” said Willy.
Speakers were also asked about compensation for the nonlethal impacts of wolves, including stress and injury to livestock. John Williams, with Wallowa County Extension Service, said in a presentation that the service has documented physical and emotional stress wolves place on cattle, including miscarriages and lung damage to animals who try to outrun the predators.
Collom said the Oregon Department of Agriculture is currently offering compensation for confirmed wolf kills equal to fair market value for the livestock. He said funding is available for missing livestock that could have been wolf kills but usually at half of market value.
Williams said, in Wallowa County, a Wolf Depredation Advisory Council has granted more leeway and allows compensation to ranchers with livestock injuries that can be attributed to wolves. He said missing animals are usually the last to receive compensation and typically at far less than market value.
All three speakers said nonlethal deterrents are still effective and should be employed by livestock producers. Such methods include the removal of attractants like carcasses and sick animals, the use of electrified fencing and fladry, or lines of rope with colored flags, livestock protection dogs and devices that alarm or scare the wolves.
“I don’t think you can hear that enough,” said Collom of nonlethal deterrents. “They can and do work.”
Collom added there has not been a direct connection between rising wolf populations and the number of wolf kills, which he said is a direct result of nonlethal deterrence.
Williams said it is important to switch nonlethal deterrent methods after several months as wolves are intelligent and, after six or seven months, may learn to get around a particular barrier.
“Wolves are really, really, really smart,” he said. “In my mind they’re some of the smartest animals out there.”
Following the seminar, Watkins said she was still frustrated local ranchers are being forced to live with wolves when the animal’s population is thriving in other areas.
“There are enough wolves in other states to keep them going for a million years,” she said.
Colleen Rambo-Garrett, who raises miniature donkeys north of Malin, said bringing wolves back has caused more damage than allowing them to remain extinct locally.
“It’s foolhardy to be reintroducing the wolf to a place where they haven’t been native for more than 100 years.”