The journey of the gray wolf known as “OR-7” from his home in Wallowa County, Oregon to south of the California border has become a minor modern wildlife epic. It is fascinating to witness the migration of a wild animal through Oregon’s wide-open spaces, tracked by wildlife biologists.
While OR-7’s travels have appeal as a classic Western tale of the wilderness and its perils, it is important to remember that wolves are, in fact, wild. Reintroducing wolves into rural Oregon affects the people and the livestock living there, particularly ranchers who suffer the intimidation, injury, and death of their animals. Wolves exact real costs on ranchers who lose livestock and contend with changes in animal behavior spurred by harassment from a natural predator.
The Oregonian reports that Idaho’s wolf population grew from 35 in 1996 to about 800 in ten years and that Oregon currently has 28 wolves. As Oregon’s wolf population grows, Oregon’s legislature and the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission need to listen to the experiences of rural Oregonians living in proximity to freely roaming predators. Ranchers need to be legally empowered to reasonably defend themselves, their families, and their animals.
OR-7’s exploration of the wilds of Oregon may be a true-life adventure for those who watch Internet videos of him from hundreds of miles away. But for rural Oregonians watching wolves cross onto their property near their cattle, the tale of the wild wolf is not so romantic.
On February 29 the Oregon House passed House Bill 4005. If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, the law would allow ranchers who lose livestock to wolf depredation to receive some compensation for their property in the form of a tax credit.
Update: HB 4005 passed the Senate on Monday, March 2.