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Oregon county approves compensation fund for livestock losses

Published March 14, 2011 9:41 pm

Agriculture • Idaho and Montana already have statewide programs to pay for losses.
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Enterprise, Ore. • An Oregon county has approved a compensation fund for ranchers who lose livestock to wolves in the northeastern corner of the state, next to Idaho and Washington.

The Community Alliance Livestock Fund, or CALF, was approved unanimously on Monday by Wallowa County commissioners, who hope it can serve as a statewide model for Oregon, The East Oregonian newspaper in Pendleton reported.

The fund was proposed to commissioners last in by Dennis Sheehy, a rancher who grazes cattle in the heart of the Imnaha wolf pack's territory in northeastern Oregon.

CALF will begin as a community-based program accepting donations from people, businesses and nonprofits, but the long-term goal is to receive state and, or, federal funding, either through U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife or possibly through the federal farm bill, said Rod Childers, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

Without a statewide plan, Oregon cannot receive federal funds for compensation — as Idaho and Montana do, Childers said.

The 2011 grazing season will be run as a pilot program, he said. Compensation won't be given out until after the 2012 season. However, Defenders of Wildlife will be compensating on cattle losses confirmed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife to be caused by wolves through Sept. 30.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Hayward said there may be problems with a compensation program based on the honor system.

Childers agreed and said, "We are looking at ways to handle verification. It is the biggest challenge."

Commissioner Susan Roberts said she understands the challenges.

"We all know it isn't going to be perfect out of the box," she said.

One measure that will help, Roberts said, is that a producer must be signed up for the program in order to receive potential compensation.

"Part of that is having someone verify your counts," she said.

Wallowa Stockgrowers President Todd Nash said he and others have discussed ways to make verification more uniform. One idea was to pay the brand inspector $2 more per head of cattle to help with counts, but that just adds more cost.

"Every time we try to help ourselves it seems it costs more money," Nash said.

He also said he worries that the compensation plan may send out the wrong message about the cattlemen's attitude toward wolves.

"The plan makes it seem like we think it's OK to have wolves, but the stockgrowers voted to do it to get compensation and to provide education on hard numbers of losses," Nash said.

Oregon State University Extension Agent John Williams said some ranches affected by wolves in Idaho estimate a loss of $268 per head, which includes body score loss, wounding and increased staff time necessary to protect herds. —

Wolf census

Billings, Mont. • The gray wolf population in the Northern Rockies dropped in 2010 — the first annual decline since the animal was reintroduced to the region 15 years ago, federal wildlife officials reported Friday.

The 5 percent drop, to an estimated 1,651 wolves in five states, comes amid increasing political pressure to allow more killing of the predators. Elected officials from the region want to strip wolves of their endangered status and allow hunters and game wardens to thin packs in response to persistent wolf attacks on livestock and big game herds.

Fewer wolves in Idaho accounted for the entire 2010 population drop. Wolf numbers increased slightly in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington.