Ranchers need more latitude in dealing with wolves

By Observer editorial June 10, 2010 02:15 pm
Six or seven years ago we were all told that wolves were headed into our region. The state said it
needed a plan to deal with the animals. Ranchers tried to tell everyone that the protected species would wreak havoc on livestock herds. Well, the wolves have arrived, the state has its plan and ranchers are dealing with the consequences of what they’d tried to warn everyone about.

In the past couple of months, several calves have been killed by wolves in Wallowa County. Although federal and state agencies don’t seem to agree on how many are confirmed kills by wolves, there’s no doubt that wolves have found some easy pickings in Wallowa County. Their numbers, and the number of livestock kills, are bound to grow — and spread.

The state’s wolf plan was developed before the wolves arrived. An update is scheduled this year. The timing couldn’t be better. The plan needs to be revisited. As Mike Hayward, Wallowa County Commission chairman, said this week, “The Wolf Plan was fine when there weren’t any wolves.’’ Things have changed.

It was good to see ODFW issue permits to five ranchers to shoot wolves that they catch in the act of attacking livestock, and that Wildlife Services will be allowed to kill two renegade wolves that are believed to be responsible for some of the depredation. But more latitude for ranchers, whose livelihoods are threatened, is needed in a revised plan.

Common sense tells us that livestock owners need to be able to protect their investment. That means they should be able to protect their herds.

Frankly, ranchers in Wallowa County have shown great restraint and a willingness to work with a system intended to protect what for a long time was considered an endangered species and one that most biologists believe is important to the overall ecosystem. Although there exists an element that only wants to annihilate the wolves, the ranchers by and large have shown that they are willing to work within the system, as frustrating as that may be for them. The fact is they need more leeway — a lot more — to protect their livestock. An updated plan should address that need.

Wallowa County is asking the governor for an emergency declaration to deal with the issue. The county wants all wolves in the county collared. It wants them monitored and staffing increased to make sure that happens. It’s not an unfair request.

The wolves have arrived, and with them has come the conflicts that the ranchers were telling everyone would develop. The ranchers’ concerns, their needs and ideas, must be considered and addressed by the state.