SALEM, ORE., (12/30/2014) – In past years Oregon has made a great effort to reintroduce wolves to its fertile lands. It is to be expected that a carnivore is going to hunt for food, but what happens when its prey become domesticated animals? For ranchers in northeast Oregon the answer is devastation.
George Rawlings, who works on a ranch in Baker County, said, “We’ve seen them, (wolves), in our meadows.” The ranch owner had Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirm a cow was killed by a wolf in 2012, followed by 24 missing cows in 2013 and 11 missing in 2014. Rawlings said that before the wolves started coming around, typically only two to three cows went missing per year. “Everybody around here is watching cattle closer,” Rawlings said. He recently found wolf tracks in the snow just 200 yards from the ranch house. “We try to make a presence so the wolves know we are there,” he said. This is one of the tactics that Oregon Fish and Wildlife recommends to deter wolves.
Ron Anglin from ODFW admits that they are having some problems. “Certainly every time wolves have shown up in a new place you end up with some kind of problem,” Anglin said. He does see that a good percentage of ranchers are trying to comply with ODFW’s standards to deter wolves from their livestock. Anglin said those who are trying “are to be commended.”
Meanwhile, ranchers like Rawlings suffer great losses. Fred Phillips from Baker Valley has also seen wolves on his property. “The wolf is very stealthy and pretty much nocturnal,” he said. “They’re not afraid of anything.”
Rodger Julick from Baker Valley was short 16 cows this year. He said his cattle came home several months early and were scared and underweight. The losses are a heavy financial burden to Julick. In reference to how many cattle he sent out to graze this summer, Julick said, “To lose 7 or 8 cows you’re pushing 10 percent.”
Todd Nash, Wolf Committee Chair for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said the burden that comes with losing cows isn’t just financial; it is also emotional. Nash said, “I’ve seen a number of grown men and women cry” after finding their cow killed by a wolf. The killings are brutal. Nash has seen a 1,400 pound pregnant heifer alive but torn apart from a wolf. “They got the calf out of the cow while she was alive,” he said.
The situation is complicated to be sure. Anglin encourages ranchers to “continue to work with their district wildlife biologist” to find a solution to stop the killings. Currently, ODFW’s website states, “Except in defense of human life, or in certain circumstances when a wolf is attacking livestock, it is unlawful to shoot a wolf. Doing so is a violation of Oregon state game law, with fines and penalties assessed by a court.” Julick said he will, “continue to do everything ODFW requests.” He isn’t sure what else ranchers can do. “Until the laws change, the cow people in northeast Oregon are going to suffer.”
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association was founded in 1913 and works to promote environmentally and socially sound industry practices, improve and strengthen the economics of the industry, and protect its industry communities and private property rights.
By Kayli Hanley