Living with Wolves and No Right of Protection

Imagine one day you were told that by law you no longer can lock your home. As you leave your house, two suspicious people are sitting on your front porch. So you get your kitchen broom and shoo them away. But they are still in front of your house on the sidewalk (legally not on your property). You call the police. They file a report and promise to monitor the situation. You eventually have to leave your home to run errands. When you come back, your computer that you use to run your business is gone. While you are confident that the folks you ran off your porch and who witnessed you leaving are the culprits, the police inform you that they found no fingerprints. Therefore, they aren’t sure if you simply misplaced your own computer.

This is essentially the scenario livestock producers face every day with wolves in Wallowa County and other parts of Oregon, except for ranchers it is even more emotional. It isn’t just an inanimate object that ranchers are unable to protect. They are beloved pets and livestock which ranchers have spent a great deal of their life raising and nurturing.

Casey Anderson of OX Ranch lives on the Oregon-Idaho border. He shared with me a story of just one of the many calves that have been attacked and maimed by wolves on his ranch. The calf received a significant injury to its leg, but after a month of daily doctoring he was able to save the calf. With a crack in his voice, he said that a year later the same calf was killed by a second wolf attack.

Oregon currently has two state-recognized wolf packs and breeding pairs. But according to Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), 27 wolf sightings were reported in November alone. He would not be surprised if two additional breeding pairs were confirmed by the end of 2010. This is significant because according to the management plan, once there are four breeding pairs for three consecutive years, wolves may be considered for delisting statewide as a protected species. Until wolves are delisted Oregon ranchers have essentially no right to protect their livestock or other property from wolves.

The reintroduction of wolves into Oregon will continue to take an emotional and an economic toll on rural communities, specifically on livestock producers. During the recent five-year management plan review, livestock producers requested amendments that would enhance their ability to protect their livestock. Unfortunately, many of their recommendations were ignored by ODFW.

There are significant impacts to ranchers managing livestock in areas with wolves. The depredation loss of the livestock is just one of several issues that must be considered:

• Inability to protect livestock and pets from wolf depredation in a proactive and preventative manner. Currently, a producer must prove a pattern of livestock loss before a permit can be issued to have the wolf removed through either lethal or non-lethal means.
• Time and financial cost associated with injured or killed livestock. Though a small depredation payment (which is not a market-based value) can be received upon proof of a wolf kill, there is no compensation for an injured animal.
• Inability to “condition” the larger wolf populations that are harassing livestock to fear interactions between humans or livestock through use of lethal or near-lethal deterrents. Currently, a permit must be issued before a rancher is allowed to do anything other than yell or shoot in the air.
• Changes in livestock behavior due to constant wolf harassment which affect weight gains, conception rates, pasture management practices, general animal husbandry and handling practices. These impacts have not been recognized in any formal manner by management agencies.
• Ranchers’ emotional stress from the additional management strain and the financial risks to his business. These are also currently unrecognized impacts.

More than two hundred years ago, James Madison wrote, “The personal right to acquire property, which is a natural right, gives to property, when acquired, a right to protection, as a social right.” Oregon ranchers should have been provided with a number of tools with which to deal with the impacts of reintroduced wolves. For ranchers, no right is as basic as protecting their own livestock from predators. It is absurd that a rancher must witness a wolf “in the act” of attacking an animal on private land and then receive a permit to allow the taking of any action that would cause harm to the wolf. It is rare even to find a carcass from wolf predation, much less catch a wolf in the act.

To allow ranchers to use lethal or near-lethal means on their own property to protect their animals from wolves is essential to a strong wolf management plan, but that has seemed to fall on deaf ears at the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. In 2011 the Oregon legislature should propose new legislation to address wolf management in Oregon that protects the right of citizens to protect their families and property (including pets and livestock) from wolves.

Karla Kay Edwards is Rural Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute. She has held positions of leadership in numerous organizations focusing on agricultural and rural industries and issues, including the Fresno (California) Farm Bureau, Washington Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.