Legislators unable to
agree on a bill to make it easier for ranchers to
By NIKI SULLIVAN
Associated Press writer
SALEM Wolves will
come to Oregon, like it or not. But a state law
spelling out what ranchers can do to protect their
livestock from wolves an endangered species
will probably have to wait at least two years.
Legislators have been unable to agree on a bill
that was intended to make it easier for ranchers
to kill wolves that were attacking livestock.
Because wolves are protected under the state and
federal Endangered Species acts, under current law
ranchers would have to contact federal authorities
if their livestock is attacked, then wait for an
agent to determine if wolves were responsible and
whether to harass or kill those involved.
A bill and amendments that were considered by a
House committee would have connected Oregon's
classification of wolves to the federal
government's. So if the federal government relaxed
classification of wolves to protected status
instead of endangered, farmers would be able to
kill wolves caught killing their livestock.
The legislation would have also created a $200,000
compensation fund for damage done by wolves and
would have prevented trappers from being sued if
they accidentally killed a wolf while trapping for
The legislation didn't have enough votes to make
it out of the House Agriculture and Natural
Sheep ranchers and farmers' groups supported the
"We're going to have wolves come over from Idaho
... and we need to have some tools and some plans
to manage them,'' said Katie Fast, a lobbyist with
the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation, which supported
the plan, along with sheep growers' groups and
wildlife preservation advocates.
Cattle ranchers in Oregon stand to lose as much as
sheep ranchers when wolves enter the state, but
the cattlemen's group didn't feel the bill
provided enough protection for their members.
"In our opinion, the plan and the rules don't go
far enough in allowing our producer members to
protect against livestock,'' said Kevin Westfall
of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.
"All we're asking is don't make criminals out of
our ranchers trying to protect our livestock,''
Rep. Patti Smith, chairwoman of the House
Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said
she thought the bill had merit, especially
concerning the $200,000 in general fund money that
would have compensated ranchers who lost livestock
"I do think without the enabling legislation, we
put all owners or landowners in jeopardy,'' the
Corbett Republican said.
But she said the bill didn't have the votes to
emerge from the now-closed committee. Smith said
she intends to work on the issue between now and
the 2007 session if the bill doesn't pass this
Brett Brownscombe, a lawyer with the Hells Canyon
Preservation Council based in Northeast Oregon,
where wolves will likely first enter the state
from Idaho, supports the proposed legislation and
would like action on it this session.
"Despite the consensus between a large number of
organizations and individuals, the Legislature and
the Oregon Cattlemen's Association are preventing
key elements of the plan from ... being carried
forward,'' Brownscombe said.
Gray wolves, native to Oregon but killed off in
the 1930s, were reintroduced to the Yellowstone
National Park and central Idaho beginning in 1995,
and have thrived since. There are now more than
400 in Idaho, and, as their numbers increase, the
predators are expected to move into Oregon.
Craig Ely, a wolf specialist with the Oregon
Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that without
the bill, farmers and ranchers will need to work
with the federal not state government if they
have a wolf problem.
"In my opinion, it's going to be difficult for the
federal government because they have no plan for
wolf management'' in Oregon, Ely said.
On the other hand, Ely said Oregon's plan has been
carefully drafted to ensure a balanced approach to
Westfall, with the Oregon Cattlemen's Association,
argued the bill would have allowed ranchers to
kill wolves only at the time they were physically
attacking an animal not a minute before or
He said that meant ranchers would have to prove
they killed the wolf at the right time and
potentially face a federal lawsuit if they
Westfall said the organization doesn't feel a rush
just yet for legislation there haven't been any
confirmed wolves in Oregon and he doesn't see the
wolf being taken off the federal Endangered
Species list anytime soon.
"We just want to protect our private property. If
we can't do that, we're planning to hold the
line,'' Westfall said.
"We're hearing from a lot of organizations (in
states with wolves) fight it with everything you
have because you guys won't be in existence if you
Rep. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, also opposed the
bill and denied that it would have given ranchers
more tools to help deal with encroaching wolves.
"We don't have the authority to let ranchers shoot
wolves, and that ain't changing anytime soon. The
federal government currently is managing it,
regardless of what we do anyway,'' Boquist said.
He said states can get special permits from the
federal government to allow wolves to be killed in
certain circumstances, but that the bill likely
would not have gotten Oregon closer to getting the
exception because the state doesn't have any
wolves confirmed here yet.
"If you're a federal bureaucrat and you want the
wolf to be introduced to Oregon, you're not going
to let us shoot wolf No. 1,'' Boquist said.
He also took issue with setting aside $200,000 for
the compensation fund because he said it would
open the door to others seeking compensation for
"We just need to have a broader discussion over
time,'' about general fund money being used to
compensate farmers for losses due to wildlife,
Boquist said he, too, believes there will be
enough information and discussion by next session
to pass a wolf bill.
"None of those issues were compelling public
policy issues at this point given the
circumstances,'' Boquist said.