Wolf compensation bill clears initial hurdle
SALEM — A proposal tying the amount of money available to ranchers for livestock losses to Oregon's wolf population to Oregon's wolf population has cleared its first hurdle.
Under House Bill 4106, Oregon lawmakers would be required to appropriate money to the state's wolf compensation fund based on the population of the species, to the extent practicable.
The bill will be scheduled for a work session during the next meeting of the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 13, allowing the proposal to survive an initial legislative deadline, said Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, the committee's chair.
Several ranchers testified that it only makes sense to increase compensation funding as the number of wolves in Oregon continues rising. State wildlife regulators currently peg the wolf population at more than 100, though some ranchers consider this a low estimate.
In Wallowa County, which is home to eight confirmed wolf packs, it costs up to $30,000 a year to have a range rider patrol for the predators, said Rod Childers, a rancher in the area.
"One range rider is not cutting it," he said. "There's no way he can respond to all those different packs."
The Oregon League of Conservation Voters opposes HB 4106 because it would confirm the "falsehood" that rising wolf populations will necessarily result in more livestock kills, said Paige Spence, the group's Oregon conservation network director.
"Predation rates have not increased with Oregon's increased wolf population," she said.
Sean Stevens, executive director of the Oregon Wild environmental group, said problems with fraud and abuse of the wolf compensation fund should be resolved before the program is expanded.
Counties have recommended the disbursal of compensation funds without sufficient input from local committees, sometimes in areas with no wolves or confirmed depradations, he said.
Childers, the Wallow County rancher, said that wolf compensation funds are well-vetted.
"We do the best we can on the ground," he said. "I don't believe there's widespread fraud in any of our programs."
In some cases, wolf compensation funds are used to prepare for the arrival of wolves in regions they've yet to be documented, said Todd Nash, a rancher and chair of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association's wolf committee.
For example, the money pays for the disposal of livestock and wildlife carcasses, which would otherwise attract predators, as well as the installation of fladry, which is rope adorned with ribbons to deter predators.
"If they're being proactive, that's a wonderful thing, isn't it?" Nash said.