Professor offers unique wolf proposal

By Dick Mason, The Observer March 18, 2013 12:19 pm

Peter Maille suggests compensating farmers, ranchers for wolves on their property

 by Dick Mason/The Observer

The question is as intriguing as wolves are controversial in Northeast Oregon.

Would paying ranchers a meaningful sum for each wolf on their land make them more willing to accept the growing presence of wolves in this region?

 Peter Maille, an assistant professor of economics at Eastern Oregon University, posed this question Friday during a presentation in La Grande, “Rethinking the rancher-wolf relationship in Northeast Oregon.”

Maille believes that the possibility of paying ranchers for their wolves should at least be examined in light of what the predator, whose numbers are growing in Northeast Oregon, costs ranchers. 

“Wolves are costly to ranchers in more than lost cattle and other livestock. There are indirect costs,” the economics professor said.


The indirect costs are significant. They include lower conception rates among livestock and slower weight gain because of the stress animals being harassed by wolves experience. Maille said the preliminary results of one university study indicate the indirect costs ranchers encounter because of wolves may be many times greater than the cost of losing livestock to wolf kills. 

Wolves unquestionably hurt ranchers but they should not be discounted as harmful to the region overall for they offer potential benefits, Maille said. For example, they could conceivably boost tourism and may improve riparian habitat. Wolves, according to some studies, boost riparian areas by keeping deer and elk moving, preventing them from spending too much time consuming vegetation near streams.

Such benefits theoretically could be boosted in at least a small way if ranchers became more accepting of wolves through a program which compensated them for the wolves on their property, Maille said. 

The EOU professor said that finding funding for his proposed program would be very difficult. 

His idea may not be as far fetched as it appears at first glance.

“It sounds radical but in West Virginia it produced some interesting results,” Maille said.

The West Virginia program Maille referred to involved not wolves but ranchers and water quality. Maille conducted a study for his doctorate at the University of West Virginia which provided ranchers with a financial incentive to boost the quality of stream water leaving their property. It was funded by a $220,000 USDA National Research Initiative grant.

The study involved 14 farming and ranching households on an 11 square-mile area. The ranching and farming households received up to $2,000 a month if the stream water coming off their property was of good quality. The primary pollutants Maille was concerned with were nitrates from animal waste and commercial fertilizer. 

The West Virginia farmers and ranchers responded to financial incentives in a big way, taking many steps which boosted water quality. They installed fences along creeks to keep livestock out, took steps to keep animal waste away from streams and took other measures. 

Maille and his adviser at the University of West Virginia, Alan R. Collins, an agriculture and resource economics professor, wrote a book about their 30-month study which ended four years ago, “Performance-based payments for conservation: Experience from a water quality experiment.” 

Maille believes there is a chance he could someday conduct a similar experiment in Northeast Oregon involving wolves and ranchers. He said it would be an enormous project which would likely have to be grant funded. 

“We may find it overwhelming but I think it would be a wonderful thing to try,” he said.