The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee held its first hearing on a series of controversial wolf bills on Wednesday. All five bills have support from the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and Rep. Greg Smith. But only one has support from wolf conservation groups.
Ecotrope blogger Cassandra Profita attended the hearing and is here to fill us in on the opposing viewpoints.
Geoff Norcross: So there are five separate wolf bills; what do they say?
Cassandra Profita: Yeah, the cattlemen decided the best strategy for getting their bills through was to pitch them each separately, and there are really only a few basic concepts they’re pitching.
One: they want to be reimbursed for any livestock they lose to wolves.
Two, they want to lower the bar for removing wolves from the state endangered species list.
And three: they want more freedom to kill wolves if they are threatening people, pets or livestock.
Geoff Norcross: They don’t have the right to kill wolves now?
Cassandra Profita: Well, right now wolves are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, and these bills would only apply if those protections are lifted. That said, as things are now people can kill wolves in self-defense. And if they see wolves actually attacking their livestock or dogs.
What the cattlemen want is to be able to kill a wolf sooner than that -- before it has a chance to do any damage.
Here’s how Rod Childers, president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association explained it.
Rod Childers: “We feel we should be able to protect our animal prior to that attack. So if they’re in our livestock we should be able to take that wolf. We’re not asking to kill every wolf. We’re asking to protect our private property.”
Geoff Norcross: And I’m guessing wolf conservation groups don’t like that?
Cassandra Profita: In a word, no. Several conservation groups told lawmakers yesterday that they’re fine with creating a wolf compensation fund to reimburse the ranchers for their livestock losses. But they’re not cool with letting people kill wolves before they’ve gone on the attack.
As Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild told me, that would make it too hard to tell the difference between a defensive kill and outright poaching.
Rob Klavins: “It would essentially take us back to the good old days where killing a wolf on sight was OK. There’s no way to prove after the fact that that wolf was in fact threatening your cattle or was within 500 feet of a house.”
Geoff Norcross: What are some of the other debates surrounding these bills?
Cassandra Profita: Well, conservation groups say many of these bills would really undermine the state’s 2005 wolf management plan, which took a long public process to create and update. They also want to make sure the compensation program would only compensate ranchers for confirmed wolf kills.
On the other side, there is this growing sentiment that Eastern Oregon’s rural communities are carrying a much bigger share of the costs of having wolves around than the rest of the state. And then you have the hunters who are worried about the impact wolves may have on elk and deer, so they like the cattlemen’s idea of taking wolves off the protected list sooner and keeping the population small.
Geoff Norcross: Do these bills have a chance of passing?
Cassandra Profita: It seems like the compensation bill has the best chance. The cattlemen say they’re encouraged by the makeup of the Legislature this year – and by the fact that their bills actually got a hearing this time around. From what I saw in the hearing, they have some supporters on the house committee.
There was a rather dramatic moment when Rep. Michael Schaufler said people should be able to kill whatever varmint is threatening their family – even if it’s the last one on earth. But so far the bills haven’t even been scheduled for a house committee vote. So they’ve got a ways to go before they become law.