Klamath County cattle owners receive compensation for wolf kills

KLAMATH FALLS — Compensation payments were made for four cattle killed and one injured by wolves during Monday's meeting of the Klamath County Wolf Depredation Committee.

DeTar Livestock of Dixon, California, which grazes cattle on the Nicholson Ranch near Fort Klamath, will receive roughly $3,660 for four cattle killed earlier this month by wolves. The payments — $1,212, $792, $764 and $893 — are based on recent cattle sales. DeTar runs cattle on Wood River Valley land owned by Bill Nicholson and managed by Butch Wampler. The wolf kills were confirmed by wildlife biologists.

The committee also approved a $407 payment to Dave Wirth, who owns a ranch in the Pine Grove area, for a February wolf attack that injured a heifer.

A request for payments will be submitted to the Oregon Department of Agriculture in January, with payments expected in February. The compensation does not include veterinary bills or other costs. During discussion, Nicholson emphasized the payments do not consider weight losses caused by stress among cattle when they are threatened by wolves. Jason Chapman, a Poe Valley rancher and wolf committee member, echoed Nicholson's concerns but said there is no way to quantify the impacts of stress.

The DeTar-Nicholson compensation request will be kept open in case of a future incident. Nicholson said the remaining cattle are scheduled to be shipped out Wednesday, although other Wood River Valley ranchers don't plan to move cattle to winter pastures, mostly in Northern California, until late November.

The payments were approved after the committee heard updates on wolves in the Klamath Basin and discussions on a range of topics.

Committee member Tom Mallams, a Klamath County commissioner, complimented efforts by Klamath Falls-based offices of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to detract wolves, but he decried legal threats by pro-wolf groups that prompt changes in enforcement regulations. Wolves in Western Oregon are on the federal endangered species list and therefore protected, while wolves east of Highways 395, 78 and 95 fall under Oregon's less restrictive wolf management plan.

Laurie Sada, USFWS Klamath Falls office supervisor, said the agency has proposed legislation to delist wolves for several years but said no action has been taken by Congress. She said the agency "feels wolves have recovered and should be delisted" and disagrees with some pro-wolf supporters.

"There's a lot of folks who say any grazing should stop if wolves are present. No," she insisted.

Sada and John Muir, assistant wildlife biologist for the state's Klamath district office, disagreed with Mallams, who cited wolf-caused deaths in Canada and Alaska in 2005 and 2010 and said wolves pose a threat to humans. No deaths have been reported in the lower 48 states.

"This is not just a livestock issue. This is a human issue," Mallams said, questioning why alerts are issued for things like possible toxic algae in lakes but not about wolves.

"I'm not interested in playing up the Little Red Riding Hood scenario," Muir responded.

Muir also said wolves are opportunists, noting, "There's no evidence wolves get a taste for beef ... If the opportunity is there, they'll teach them (young wolves) how to survive."

Mark Coats, a member of Working Circle, a Siskiyou County group formed to create strategies to prevent wolf depredations, discussed efforts to discourage wolf-livestock interactions. He said the group wants to expand to Southern Oregon and make control expenses "more tolerable." He said the presence of humans, called hazing, has proven the most effective method of discouraging wolf attacks.

Coats said no California wolves have radio collars used for tracking but said their movements have been detected by trail cameras and by experts studying tracks and scat. By forecasting wolf movements, ranchers can take steps to reduce potential attacks. He said information on California wolves is lacking because the state has no wolf depredation compensation program, which he believes discourages ranchers from reporting livestock kills.

Muir said efforts to trap and collar wolves, especially members of the Rogue Pack believed responsible for the four recent Wood River Valley kills, have been unsuccessful. Sada said there is no chance all wolves will ever be collared, cautioning, "The reality is you're not going to know where these animals are."

The committee will meet in January to discuss its 2017 budget request and consider methods to discourage wolf attacks, including possible participation in the Working Circle. Last year Klamath County requested $15,000 for preventive measures and received about $8,000. The county has received $20,000 through a USFWS grant to be used over a four-year period for prevention efforts and has $5,000 in state funds that must be used in the next three months for deterrent procedures, such as range riders, special fencing, guard dogs, burying or disposing of livestock carcasses, firing cracker shells and using strobe lights.

— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net.

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