Wolf compensation program nears completion

ODA sets up grant program for counties to help ranchers
By Oregon Dept. of Agriculture

The return of the gray wolf to Oregon has already resulted in conflicts between the predatory animal and livestock, leading to past, present, and future losses for Oregon ranchers. This past session, the Oregon Legislature established a $100,000 grant program to compensate the ranching community when livestock and working dogs are attacked and killed by wolves. The Oregon Department of Agriculture is finalizing the rules surrounding that compensation program, which goes into effect immediately upon the director’s signature.

“Even though a plan is in place to manage wolves returning to Oregon, there is compassion for the suffering of livestock and the producers who experience losses due to depredation,” says Dr. Don Hansen, state veterinarian with ODA. “The legislature has decided to support those people who have suffered losses as well as those who want to protect their livestock by practicing prevention.”

House Bill 3560 directed ODA to establish and implement a wolf depredation compensation and financial assistance grant program. The grant funds may go to ranchers who have had their livestock killed or injured by wolves, or to those who take measures to reduce the possibility of wolf attacks. The ultimate decision of who gets the money, how much, and why will be made at the county level.

“ODA has the responsibility to oversee the program, but the monies go to counties,” says Hansen. “It’s the counties who have the responsibility to apply the rules, request the grant funds, and distribute funds that are received.”

Counties are directed to award funds under one of two scenarios. Compensation may be paid to persons who suffer loss or injury to livestock or working dogs due to wolf depredation. Financial assistance may also be provided to persons who implement livestock management techniques or non-lethal wolf deterrence techniques designed to limit wolf and livestock interactions. The rules are set up to ensure the awards are appropriate and that money isn’t handed out just because someone asks for it.

The first step needs to be taken by the county. In order to qualify for the grant funds, counties are required to form an advisory committee consisting of one county commissioner, two livestock owners, and two members who support wolf conservation or coexistence with wolves. Once established, the county advisory committee must agree upon two representatives of the business community to serve as additional members.

“Once formed, these committees must establish procedures that allow producers to come forward, demonstrate their losses and/or demonstrate the costs for prevention techniques, and apply for compensation,” says Hansen.

The committee is responsible for collecting information from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) that documents any probable role of a wolf in the death or injury of livestock, whether missing livestock is a result of wolf damage, or if the producer truly is implementing preventive measures that are eligible for compensation. A livestock or working dog death or injury due to wolf activity needs to be verified by ODFW as a probable cause. By this law, only ODFW can make that finding. The Oregon Department of Agriculture agrees to help county committees establish the fair market price of affected livestock in order to determine how much money should be paid to an individual claim.

Compensation becomes even more specific depending on where a rancher operates. If wolf depredation takes place outside an area of known wolf activity (as determined by ODFW), the compensation is automatic. If it happens within an area of known activity, such as Wallowa County, payment can be made only if the producer is already taking steps to limit wolf interactions with livestock. When it’s a case of missing livestock, the producer is required to provide additional detail in the request.

There must be a preponderance of evidence that wolves have been responsible for livestock losses.

With only $100,000 of general funds allocated by the legislature for the 2011-12 biennium, the money may not last very long.

“This is new ground for everybody, so we will just see what happens,” says Hansen. “It could be that more of the money is used for preventive measures to keep wolves away from livestock.”

Under ODA’s rules, applications by counties for grant funds will be submitted on February 15 of each year- not before, but actually on that day. Ranchers will be compensated for death and injury that occurred after the law went into effect- August 2, 2011. Ranchers will be paid for prevention scenarios they want to put into place in the year to come.

“Many prevention strategies deal with what happens right after lambing or calving season at turnout, and that’s early spring,” says Hansen. “That’s why the February 15 date makes sense.”

Even counties not known to have wolf issues at this time should be interested in forming advisory committees just in case. Hansen’s message to the livestock industry is clear.

“Don’t wait for a wolf event to take place in your county, form a committee,” he says. “There is money available to limit producers’ exposure. The whole point is to not lose livestock in the first place.”

If it works according to plan, ODA’s wolf depredation compensation and financial assistance grant program complements and supports ODFW’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan by proactively minimizing wolf-livestock conflicts and helping ranchers who experience losses due to wolves.

“Without the ability to directly control problem wolves, this is a good first step toward recognizing that wolves do and will have ongoing economic impacts to livestock production, ” says Rodger Huffman, ODA’s Livestock Inspection and Predator Control program manager.

For more information, contact Don Hansen at (503) 986-4680.

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