Two Eastern Oregon ranchers have volunteered to test a new strategy aimed at preventing further conflicts between wolves and livestock.
Rodger Huffman, president of the Union County Cattlemen’s Association, and Cynthia Warnock, president of the Wallowa County Stockgrowers Association, will work with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop site-specific wolf plans at their respective ranches, emphasizing the use of non-lethal deterrents up front to minimize predation.
The proposal was outlined by a group of stakeholders tasked with finding common ground on a five-year update of the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, which is now three years past due. 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, selecting non-lethal wolf deterrents such as range riders, alarm boxes and electrified fencing based on individual operations and geography.
If wolves continue to attack livestock — what the state terms “chronic depredation” — then ranchers could ask ODFW to kill the offending predators. 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.
Questions, however, continued to loom among the group about whether ODFW has the money or manpower to implement such a program. That is where Huffman and Warnock come in, agreeing to test the strategy at their own ranches in the heart of Oregon’s wolf country.
Huffman, who ranches in Union, Ore., where wolves from the Catherine pack are active, said it remains to be seen who will pay for non-lethal tools and whether ranchers themselves would bear the added cost.
“I think it comes down to (ODFW) staff, and where they are at the time,” Huffman said. “It may be a whole new program within the agency, when it’s all said and done with.”
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. ODFW has investigated one dead calf on Huffman’s 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, Ore., is also frequented by wolves in far northeast Wallowa County.
Apart from funding, the group also disagrees about the timeline for chronic depredation, which ODFW is proposing at three confirmed kills within a 12-month period under Phase III of the wolf plan. Environmentalists also say ODFW should not automatically default to killing wolves if the threshold for chronic depredation is met.
The next work group meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 27 in Pendleton.