State legislators visit ‘wolf highway’

By Observer Upload April 15, 2013 12:41 pm


Bill Hansell, R-Pendleton, checks out a radio-activated guard box a few yards from a calving pasture that emits loud sounds like helicopters and gunfire when triggered by a collared wolf. Katy Nesbitt/The Observer
Bill Hansell, R-Pendleton, checks out a radio-activated guard box a few yards from a calving pasture that emits loud sounds like helicopters and gunfire when triggered by a collared wolf. Katy Nesbitt/The Observer

Wallowa County ranchers want more leeway to kill problem wolves 

by Katy Nesbitt/The Observer

Wolves were on the itinerary when representatives from the governor’s office and the state Legislature visited Wallowa County this weekend. 

The first stop on the tour was the Patton Ranch in the Wallowa Valley, which sits on what is known as “the wolf highway,” a path between the mountainous Divide Country in the eastern part of the county to the Zumwalt Prairie and its healthy elk population.

The Pattons have lost several head of cattle in the last three years. 

“It’s a never-ending saga,” said Karl Patton. “Two days ago they were here.”

The Pattons have used all of the customary non-lethal wolf deterrents. Electrified flagging, or “fladry,” encircles their smaller calving pastures in the spring. A radio-activated guard box, which emits loud sounds like helicopters and gunfire when a collared wolf is in its vicinity, is just outside of the same field.

Russ Morgan, the state’s wolf coordinator, said, “Fladry is not for the forest range. You can’t expect to use these on the large landscape.”

Cleaning up old bone piles was recommended by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife when wolves started killing cattle in the valley. Patton said before the wolves were present on the ranch, “When a cow died I’d put her on a bone pile and let the coyotes pick at them. Now I take them to the dump.”

 Scott Shear runs cattle on the Triple Creek Ranch between Pattons and the Divide country. He’s used fladry and RAG boxes, but agreed that removing bone piles made a noticeable difference.

“The wolves quit hanging out there,” said Shear.

Human presence is lauded as one of the best deterrents. In less than two years, Patton said he’s put 8,000 miles on his ATV and attributes half of them to patrolling for wolves.

“I spend a lot of time with my cows, but I’m not covering other projects like fixing fence.”

Brett Brownscombe, natural resources policy adviser to Gov. John Kitzhaber, asked, “If you had a range rider, would that help? Another body watching for wolves?”

Patton said, “Nobody knows cows besides the guy checking them. Maybe hiring someone to mend the fences would help.”

Wallowa County started using range riders in 2010. The problem, Patton said, is that a rider is usually looking for something dead, and that’s too late. 

Luke Morgan of the Grouse Creek Ranch said, “I have found two or three elk kills, but no cattle, and I ride seven days a week.”

To avoid wolf interaction, many ranchers have adjusted what fields they use and the time of year they use them. Karen Patton said they’ve added new pasture, and Karl Patton said he doesn’t take his cattle to
his forest allotment in mid-July, but now waits until Aug. 1.

The group traveled to what is called the “Cat’s Back,” where the road narrows on the top of the Divide Country. To best appreciate the ruggedness of the country, the group huddled behind a rock outcropping, out of the wind, with a view of the breaks of Big Sheep Creek and Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountain Range in the distance.

Todd Nash has lost cattle over the past three years in the same pasture.

“I’m not going to run cows in that pasture this year. I’ve leased other land,” said Nash.

Nash said all of the privately owned, neighboring pastures are for sale and have had depredations. Porter said if one was to Google “Grouse Creek Ranch,” stories about their interaction with wolves would fill the screen.

“When people ask a realtor about ranch land, they ask, ‘Are there wolves around?’” said Porter.

Bill Hansell, Wallowa County’s state senator asked, “What kind of legislation do you need to help you?”

Patton said, “We need to put fear in them and the ones that are chronic killers need to be removed.”

Per the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, ranchers must have a kill permit before they can take a wolf caught killing livestock. Kill permits are issued only after several nonlethal steps are taken to prevent depredation, and only after a rancher has suffered depredation. More than 60 Wallowa County ranchers have been issued permits, but no one has had the opportunity to use one. 

Permit-less take

Senate Bill 197 was introduced this legislative session at the request of Gov. Kitzhaber. It would have given the state authority to allow what is known as permit-less take when the state’s wolf population reaches four breeding pair for three consecutive years.

The bill was assigned to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland. Bill 197 never had a hearing this spring and it died in committee. 

Senate Bill 197 said, “Any person who owns or lawfully occupies land does not need a permit to take a gray wolf if it is caught in the act of attacking livestock or working dogs.”

House Bill 3452 recently was introduced by Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, and Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Pendleton. It added the language, “or harassing, or are
reasonably believed by the person to have attacked or harassed.”

Morgan said, “With the vastness of this country, you could have 30 range riders and a million miles of fladry and still lose livestock. I’m a supporter of non-lethal, but the hard reality to some is some people want to think there’s always something you can do.”

Rod Childers, representing the Oregon Cattlemen, said, “I think we’ve been very patient the last four years. Give us the right to protect our livestock.”

Brownscombe said, “Right now the key point is the state is under litigation and there is no lethal response. I appreciate that people have persevered under tough circumstances. Chronic depredation is a bad deal. If we had that authority, we might not be in this position.”