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OR-7 puts area ranchers on edge
Should wolf predate livestock, Klamath County producers have little recourse under law
by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 12/29/11
Bill Nicholson, Richie Lockrem and Butch Wampler, from left, look for wolf tracks on a forest service road near Seven Mile Creek in the Wood River Valley. A young male wolf was tracked by GPS to the area last month.
WOOD RIVER VALLEY — Snow crunches under foot as Richie Lockrem, Bill Nicholson and Butch Wampler walk up a shaded Forest Service road near Seven Mile Creek, their eyes glued to the ground.
They’re looking for wolf tracks.
A 2 1/2 -year-old male gray wolf settled in the Fort Klamath area last month after splitting from its pack in Northeastern Oregon. The GPS-collared wolf, named OR-7, has been bemoaned by ranchers and celebrated by wildlife advocates.
Wampler, a Chiloquin resident who saw wolf tracks on the road a week earlier, spots fresh prints. The tracks meander up the road following a set of hoof prints, likely from a cow that got loose, he says.
“I bet you anything the wolf ate that cow,” Wampler said.
Wolf tracks dot a Forest Service road in the Wood River Valley.
Ranchers and residents in the area are concerned. They’ve heard stories of wolves’ impact on cattle herds elsewhere. They wish they were afforded more freedom to defend livestock from the federally-protected predators. And they worry what will happen if OR -7 establishes a pack near the Wood River Valley, where more than 30,000 cattle graze each summer.
Wildlife advocates, on the other hand, are celebrating OR-7’s journey.
While OR-7 has made no documented livestock kills, the Imnaha pack from which he split is responsible for at least 19 since spring 2010, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But livestock kills aren’t the main concern, said Nathan Jackson, president of the Klamath Cattlemen’s Association. Ranchers look for their cattle to gain 300 pounds in the nearly five months they graze here. If they’re predated by wolves, cattle won’t graze properly and won’t gain weight.
For Rob Klavins, wildlands and wildlife advocate for Oregon Wild, OR-7’s trek to the area is a victory in the effort to reintroduce the once eradicated gray wolf to the American West.
“This is a chapter in a great conservation success story: the return of wolves to Oregon and now Western Oregon,” he said.
For ranchers, there are few options to protect livestock from wolves, said Lockrem, who raises cattle and a few dozen sheep on the west end of the Wood River Valley. The 12-mile -long valley sandwiched between Upper Klamath Lake and Crater Lake National Park is empty now, as most ranchers winter their herds in California. Come spring, it will be full of cattle.
“With the 40,000 head we run in this valley, (OR-7) is going to have a heyday,” he said. “He’ll have everything he needs right here.”
It’s illegal to shoot wolves in the western two-thirds of Oregon. East of Highway 395, which runs north to south across the state and passes through Lakeview, wolves are numerous enough that a kill order can be issued for wolves that predate livestock, but the Oregon Court of Appeals halted such killings last month.
The state Legislature this year established a fund to pay ranchers for livestock killed by wolves, but the program is yet to go into effect. Losing a cow can cost a rancher more than $1,000, while sheep cost about $200 a piece, Lockrem said.
Non-lethal methods of keeping wolves from livestock can be effective, Klavins said. There are electric fences, devices that emit noise and light when a GPS collared wolf gets near, and flags meant to scare wolves.
Ranchers remain skeptical about the nonlethal methods.
“It seems to me there are a lot better uses for our taxpayer dollars that trying to nurse these wolves alon g, when they’re going to destroy a lot of agriculture around here,” said Nicholson, a semiretired Fort Klamath area rancher.
The next chapter for OR-7, Klavins said, would be finding a mate. Other wolves could follow OR-7’s trail to the area, he said.
Livestock owners don’t want to see that happen.
“A lone wolf isn’t going to cause a lot of problems, but where there’s one there’ll be two,” Lockrem said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Richie Lockrem looks out over his sheep pasture in the Wood River Valley
Keeping a wolf out
A string of long, thin red flags flutter in the breeze around one of Richie Lockrem’s fields.
The pieces of fabric hanging on an electric fence are meant to keep a wolf out of his sheep pasture in the Wood River Valley. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service built him the fence after a wolf settled in the area last month.
The motion of the flags is supposed to scare off wolves, but Lockrem is skeptical.
“(The wolf) can come in here and grab a sheep and jump over the fence and be good for a week,” he said. “But he wouldn’t kill just one. He’d kill them all so he could come back and feed.”
Lockrem has raised sheep and cattle in the valley for 23 years. While there are no documented cases of wolves killing a human in the lower 48 states, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Lockrem said he doesn’t like the idea of having wolves in his backyard.
“It’s eerie,” he said about knowing a wolf is in the area. “It cuts right to your bones.”
Page Updated: Friday December 30, 2011 03:27 AM Pacific
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