November 13, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Its name is the gray wolf.

This said, there is little gray about the feelings many Northeast Oregon people have about the animals.

Their opinions are often black or white: let the gray wolf come into Oregon or keep it out completely.

This is the conclusion one could draw after attending a town hall meeting Wednesday at Eastern Oregon University put on by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The meeting, which drew about 150 people, was conducted to accept comments on how people feel about the gray wolf coming into Oregon. There are no known gray wolves in Oregon now, but biologists believe it is inevitable that they will be moving into the state from Idaho.

Idaho has about 250 wolves because of a federal reintroduction program. Mack Birkmaier, a Joseph rancher, said he objected to wolves being brought into Idaho.

"I believe that for the feds to bring wolves into Idaho and let them expand is arrogant and unfair,'' Birkmaier said.

He described wolves as inhumane, noting that they will eat cattle alive. "My cattle aren't for sale for wolf feed,'' Birkmaier said.

He said it would be painful to see livestock killed by wolves. Birkmaier said that people don't understand how attached ranchers get to their cattle and horses.

A major concern of many people is the potentially negative impact wolves would have on deer and elk populations. Many believe that deer and elk have enough predator pressure now because of Oregon's rising cougar populations.

"The last thing we need is another predator,'' one hunter said.

Brandon Lloyd of Wyoming believes the impact wolves have on deer and elk populations may be minimal. He once lived near an elk refuge in Wyoming near Yellowstone National Park.

Lloyd said that one year a large number of wolves were present and killed numerous elk. However, biologists determined that the elk population was not hurt because wolves were killing only the sick and weak.

Lloyd said that it should be determined in Oregon how many wolves would be a viable number for its ecosystem. He would like to see wolf corridors established. These would be areas in which wolves could travel without bothering ranchers, said Lloyd, who was visiting a relative in La Grande.

Bob Sallinger of Portland, another wolf supporter, said he believes that having wolves in Oregon could actually reduce the losses some farmers and ranchers experience. He explained that deer and elk cause extensive property damage. Wolves would kill many of them, said Sallinger, a member of the Audubon Society of Portland.

Many people who spoke at Wednesday's meeting believe that a government program should be established to compensate ranchers who lose livestock to wolves.

Birkmaier said a compensation program would be ineffective because much of the livestock wolves' eat are calves. When wolves kill a young animal they often do not leave a trace of it because they consume its soft bones.

Because they can kill calves without leaving a trace, it would be impossible for ranchers to prove that wolves took them, thus compensation would be difficult to obtain, Birkmaier said.

Ranchers in Oregon cannot kill wolves that take their livestock because they are protected by the federal and Oregon endangered species acts.

This disturbs people such as Nancy Dake of Union County.

"Laws prohibit us from doing anything to protect ourselves. That is the issue,'' Dake said.

The town hall meeting was one of 14 the ODFW is conducting throughout the state on the wolf issue.