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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow Wolf bills would ease burden on ranchers

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Wolf bills would ease burden on ranchers


Considering the slate of wolf-related bills on the Oregon Legislature’s agenda, you might think there’s a whole lot more than two dozen of these canines in the state.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee conducted public hearings on five bills earlier this week.

We wholeheartedly endorse two of the five.

Although both — House Bills 3560 and 3013 — would accomplish the same thing: setting up a fund to compensate livestock owners whose animals are killed by wolves.

This is an important step, because Defenders of Wildlife, a private organization that compensates ranchers for wolf kills, is canceling that program in Oregon Sept. 1.

One bill, HB 3562, isn’t necessary. It would allow a person to kill a wolf “in defense of the person's own life or the life of another person.”

We already have that right. Although no one has ever exercised that right, so far as we know, being that there’s no documented case of a wolf attacking a person in Oregon.

We do, however, support a similar bill, HB 3563.

This bill would allow a person to kill a wolf within 500 feet of the person’s home.

Opponents argue that the 500-foot limit is arbitrary. Not exactly.

Wolves, as a rule, try to avoid people (the lack of documented attacks on humans is no coincidence). But wolves can develop a taste for our livestock, as has been demonstrated both in Baker and Wallowa counties during the past two years.

When wolves come within 500 feet of a house, it’s quite likely that they’ve been lured there by the prospect of an easy meal in the form of a lamb or a calf.

This is a lesson that Baker County ranchers Annie and Curt Jacobs learned all too well two years ago, when a pair of wolves killed two dozen of their sheep in a pen within 500 feet of the couple’s home.

Ranchers and homeowners should have the legal authority to kill wolves that pose that sort of proximate threat.

But they don’t have that authority, because wolves are protected under the strict federal Endangered Species Act.

Once wolves are removed from federal protection, though (as they were last year, a decision later reversed by a judge), Oregon, by enacting HB 3563, can give people a meaningful measure of protection against wolf depredation.

The fifth bill, HB 3561, would prohibit the state from listing wolves as endangered as long as there are four confirmed breeding pairs here. The current wolf plan requires at least eight breeding pairs.

This bill would likely do little except spur legal challenges to the wolf plan.

The bottom line here is that Oregon’s wolves aren’t going away. Nor do we want to extirpate, for the second time, this keystone predator.

The goal, then, should be to ensure that the effects of the wolf’s return don’t fall too heavily on livestock owners, who have borne the brunt of the wolves’ impact thus far.

We can achieve that goal by making laws that allow ranchers to kill wolves that threaten livestock, and compensate stock owners for unwitnessed depredation.

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