The Oregon Legislature has acknowledged that the state has a responsibility to partially compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.

Lawmakers created the wolf compensation grant program a decade ago.

It was a necessary step. Ranchers, after all, aren’t responsible for wolves returning to Oregon — indeed, many of them objected to the state allowing wolves to migrate into Oregon from Idaho, starting in 1999. (Oregon never transplanted wolves into the state.)

But some ranchers, unlike the vast majority of Oregonians for whom the presence of wolves has no direct effect, have sustained financial losses due to wolves.

The money the Legislature has allocated to the program is a paltry sum that hasn’t been sufficient to cover the actual losses of livestock as well as other costs ranchers have borne, including installing fencing and taking other steps to prevent wolves from attacking cattle, sheep and other domestic animals.

During 2020, for instance, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which administers the wolf compensation program, distributed $130,164 among 12 counties, including Baker. That was just 37% of the amount requested. In 2019 the state awarded $251,529, or 58% of requests.

For the period Feb. 1, 2020, through Jan. 31, 2021, Union County received $1,330 for death/injury to livestock that occurred in 2019. This was the total requested for these categories based on applications received from local producers. An additional $20,000 was requested for depredation measures. The county received $17,330 of the requested amount. All received funds were distributed to local ranchers.

In Baker County for the same period, the county requested $47,708 from the state and received $32,708 — 68%. The county distributed almost all of that to local ranchers (the county kept $495 as an administrative fee).

One Eastern Oregon lawmaker wants to boost those percentages. Rep. Bobby Levy, a Republican from Echo, in Umatilla County, plans to introduce a bill when the Legislature convenes Feb. 1, 2022, allocating $1 million for the compensation program for the next two-year budget cycle.

Statewide in 2021, ODFW has confirmed 87 animals killed or injured by wolves: 51 cattle, 28 sheep, six goats and two guard dogs. That is up by more than double over 2020, when 32 animals — 28 cattle, two llamas and two guard dogs — were attacked or killed by wolves.

Compared with Oregon’s state budget, the million dollars Levy is proposing to spend for wolf compensation barely qualifies as a pittance. And it’s almost certainly not enough to fairly compensate ranchers for the loss of their livestock and to help them deter wolf attacks — which everyone, those who want wolves in Oregon and those who don’t, agree is the ultimate goal.

But boosting the compensation budget by $1 million is a solid start to better addressing a problem that, based on 2021, is growing rather than receding.

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