A tip of the hat to Umatilla County commissioners for their bold decision to join Wallowa County and six other Eastern Oregon counties in filing a “friend of the court brief” with the Oregon Court of Appeals to allow the implementation of the Oregon Wolf Plan. In early October, three “conservation” organizations filed for and received a stay that prevents Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife  from removing wolves responsible for chronic livestock depredation. ODFW is charged with this responsibility under the Oregon Wolf Plan. The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association filed for and has received intervenor status in the case in support of ODFW. Umatilla County joined Wallowa County and others as Friends of the Court.

A very diverse group of individuals representing varied organizations and interests were called upon to develop the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. This diverse group included conservationists, the tribes, ranchers, trappers, hunters, educators, researchers, the general public and others. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved and adopted the plan in December 2005. Under the wolf plan, ODFW is tasked with the responsibility of implementing the plan, including the removal of wolves that are responsible for chronic livestock depredation. Now that wolves have arrived in Oregon and we are experiencing chronic depredation of livestock, deer and elk, conservation organizations — specifically Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild — have found it necessary to file for, and have received, a stay from the Oregon Court of Appeals in implementing the plan, specifically a stay in removing wolves responsible for chronic livestock depredation. 

We call foul that conservation groups helped craft the Oregon Wolf Plan, but it is conservation groups that now file for a stay preventing the implementation of the same plan.

In 2010, the livestock industry in Umatilla County generated over $70 million of economic activity in our local communities. In Oregon, the value of the economic activity attributed to the livestock industry in 2010 exceeded $1.4 billion. These are “farm gate values” and do not include an economic multiplier to estimate the total economic impact, as these livestock dollars turn over multiple times in our local economy. So from our view, we support the decision of the Umatilla County commissioners to protect local livestock, the livelihoods of local ranch families and this valuable part of our economy.

Wolves can have a profound negative impact on wildlife populations, including the large game species of deer and elk. Some Montana elk herds that border Yellowstone Park have experienced zero recruitment (of young calves) into their herds in recent years due to wolf depredation. If you enjoy big game species for their esthetic valve or you simply enjoy experiencing deer and elk ... wolves are bad news. On the other hand, if you are more concerned with economics, hunting season is big business for Eastern Oregon communities, as hunters purchase hunting licenses, food items, supplies, tires, fuel and hunting equipment, eat in local restaurants and stay in local hotels and B&Bs. Without healthy populations of deer and elk, this economic activity will disappear, which would be yet another blow to the economies of rural Eastern Oregon communities,

The EO’s suggestion the $1,000 the commissioners spent on legal fees would have been better spent on local food banks, flu shots or United Way does not ring true for us. Although these are all worthy causes, investing $1,000 to protect an industry that generates over $70 million of economic activity annually for our local communities appears to us to be a wise investment. Ironically, it is these same local ranch families that are at risk that produce some of the same food distributed by local food banks.

Sometimes doing the right thing is not popular in all camps. But for us, another tip of our hat to the Umatilla County commissioners for stepping to the plate to protect wildlife populations, the interests of county residents, our local economy and our local ranch families.

Ian Murdock is the president of the Umatilla County Cattlemen’s Association.

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