Oregon has launched a new strategy to help ranchers coexist with gray wolves: reward those who use non-lethal methods to protect their livestock from the predatory newcomers.
Gov. John Kitzhaber on Tuesday signed into law the Livestock Compensation and Wolf Co-existence Act. It takes immediate effect, making Oregon the only state in which ranchers are eligible for compensation for the loss of livestock to wolves — provided they use non-lethal methods to deter such attacks.
The conservation group Defenders of Wildlife is hailing the new law as a demonstration of Oregon’s commitment to reducing conflicts between wolves and ranchers. Suzanne Stone, the group’s northern Rockies representative, said the new law requires the collaboration of varied interests, including the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, the Oregon Farm Bureau, Hells Canyon Preservation Council and Defenders of Wildlife.
“When there is a willingness to sit down and work together, we can find practical solutions that benefit all parties,” she said in a statement.
The Defenders of Wildlife’s own compensation fund for ranchers with wolf-predation losses has since 1987 paid out $1.4 million to more than 900 livestock owners in the northern Rockies. That group announced it will terminate that program once Kitzhaber signs the Oregon compensation legislation, which then goes into immediate effect.
Ramona Phillips, a cattle rancher from Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Valley, says it’s extremely difficult to apply for and receive compensation now. Phillips says the bill doesn’t appear to make this process any easier for ranchers. Ranchers who currently apply for compensation through a separate fund controlled by Defenders of Wildlife have to prove a wolf was responsible for a kill. Phillips says that is often difficult without video of the actual kill.
Phillips isn’t the only rancher concerned about how the state carries out livestock compensation. Connie Dunham, who also lives and operates a cattle ranch in Wallowa County, says the actual value of livestock killed each year far exceeds the $100,000 fund established by the new Oregon program. Dunham says she wants an impartial committee to review each reported wolf depredation case because she and other ranchers don’t trust the state to acknowledge every kill.The new law puts that responsibility with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Money for the new compensation fund comes from the state’s income-tax-reliant general fund. The newly formed Wolf Management Compensation and Proactive Trust Fund also can receive grant and donations from private sources.