Ranchers want more authority to kill wolves

Of the Associated Press

SALEM — Eastern Oregon ranchers are asking the state Legislature for more authority to kill wolves that threaten their livestock, re-energizing a longstanding debate as the wolf population increases.

Ranchers told a House committee Tuesday that their existing authority to kill wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock isn't enough protection from the substantial losses they incur when wolves prey on cattle and sheep. Environmentalists warned that wolf populations might dwindle if ranchers have fewer hurdles to scale before they can legally kill a wolf.

Three Eastern Oregon legislators have proposed allowing ranchers to kill any gray wolf they reasonably believe has attacked or harassed their livestock — a significantly lower bar than the one in place today. Both sides are planning meetings to work on a compromise.

“We simply want to keep our livestock alive and out of harm's way,” said Rod Childers, a Wallowa County rancher who leads a wolf committee for the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Committee took no action on the bill Tuesday.

Oregon's wolf conservation plan, administered by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, allows ranchers with a permit to kill a wolf if they catch it in the act of attacking, but ranchers say it's almost impossible to do so. No caught-in-the-act permit-holder has ever killed a wolf, said Michelle Dennehy, a spokeswoman for the fish and wildlife agency.

It's unclear what a compromise might look like, but conservationists advocate nonlethal methods of deterring wolves. Loud noises and red plastic flags have been successful in some areas.

“We have to make sure that the bill strongly emphasizes protection of our wolves,” McKenna Grace Fisher, who described herself as an animal-rights activist, told the committee.

At the end of 2012, wolf numbers in the state had risen to 46 from 29 in 2011, according to state fish and wildlife officials. Meantime, four cows and eight sheep were killed last year by two separate packs, while 13 cows were killed by one pack in 2011.

So far this year, one cow has been killed by a wolf.

Seen as a scourge on the landscape, wolves were nearly wiped out across the Lower 48 by the 1930s. In 1995, the federal government sponsored the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. They eventually spread to Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and California.

With wolf numbers approaching 1,800, the federal government dropped Endangered Species Act protection in 2011 in the Northern Rockies, eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, and turned over recovery management to the states.

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