By Bill Hoyt

Today Oregonians face the coming of the Canadian gray wolf — an icon to some, a threat to others. Whatever the view, it’s clear that wolves must be dealt with and the conflicts they create must be addressed.

The Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is currently up for review, and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association seeks reasonable adjustments to it. Many new issues have arisen since the plan’s inception five years ago, but one thing remains constant: Ranchers have a great need to protect their livestock. OCA members seek the same types of management tools provided to ranchers in Idaho and other states that have experienced successful wolf reintroductions. They also seek a fair and equitable compensation plan that takes into account unconfirmed kills.

Ranchers care deeply for their livestock. They fight tooth and nail to keep them alive every day from birth. It’s difficult for a rancher to do nothing when a wolf is threatening his livestock. Wolves are prolific predators, hard to manage and not efficient killers like cougars, which keep bloodshed to a minimum and kill quickly. Wolves often leave their victims partially consumed before the animals finally die of blood loss or violent injuries.

Ranchers have never been against a diverse wildlife population. In fact, ranchers are proud to be the last and best bastions of open spaces, rangelands and forest. We help ensure that Oregon’s natural landscapes remain unbroken and pristine, and that the state’s wildlife have a home. The Oregon Departments of Agriculture and Fish & Wildlife estimate that Oregon’s ranchers provide habitat for more than 70 percent of the state’s wild animals. This ensures ongoing — and often unnoticed — protection of forage, water and large expanses of land.

Ranchers are not only concerned about wolf-livestock conflict, but also about the diversity of Oregon’s wildlife. Elk, deer and antelope suffer extreme impacts when wolves are not adequately managed. In one Idaho elk management zone, elk populations have declined 85 percent, from 9,729 in 1994 (pre-wolf) to 1,473 in 2010. The sad tale of what has happened in other states’ ungulate herds is an unintended consequence of an agenda that favors wolves at the expense of ungulate herds, sportsmen, hunters, pets, farmers, ranchers and local communities.

In a survey by Defenders of Wildlife, more than half of respondents said wolves should be recovered to some level; however, 90 percent said ranchers should not bear the brunt of costs for wolf recovery. That sentiment cannot be ignored.

Oregon’s natural landscape is a wondrous and diverse place, home to hundreds of animal species. Working in this environment is both a challenge and a privilege for our ranching community. Name-calling does nothing to address serious impacts caused by wolves to communities, wildlife and agriculture. It also fails to provide solutions. It simply fosters discord and polarization. The time for rhetoric has passed. It’s time to engage in a more meaningful approach to resolving issues Oregonians face.

Bill Hoyt is president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.