Wolf policy changes needed

By Curt Jacobs October 09, 2009 02:45 pm

On Good Friday morning three generations of Jacobses got to experience firsthand the havoc two wolves could wreak. Just a two-minute jaunt from our sleeping households, four of the five documented wolf attacks occurred on what we call the “Home Ranch,” a 640-acre chunk of farm and pastureland, just a part of what we make a living on in this high desert country.

From that day in April until today, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and Animal Damage Control confirmed 29 lambs, a pet goat and one calf killed on two ranches. This act stirred and spread the hotbed of debate in our small ranching community of Keating Valley to the Legislature in Salem and beyond.

We not only suffered the loss of these confirmed cases, but that of five more non-confirmed kills on both the Moore Ranch north of us and our own ranch. Our livestock has been harassed and chased through fences, and now our dogs display behavior that signifies “Beware, ‘they’ are out there!” We have tracked the wolves coming right down the road by our corrals behind my mom and dad’s house. The feeling of being watched for a weak spot in the line is not a pleasant one.

I have been working with ODFW to try every non-lethal measure to keep the sheep and cattle and horses in my care safe. Fladry, which is a type of flagging known to deter wolves, was put up around my sheep lots. I was quick to bury any death loss so as not to attract by scent. I use guard dogs to patrol the perimeter of my property. I bring my small bunch of sheep that don’t go out to the hills with the sheepherder to the corrals close to the houses every night.

ODFW captured and radio collared one wolf to monitor his movements and that of his running partner. ODFW also installed radio-activated noise boxes meant to harass wolves who get too close to houses and livestock. They also used a plane and helicopter to haze the wolves to make it uncomfortable for them to be down in the valley.

I take seriously the commitment to protect my family members as well as feeding and sheltering my livestock. The general types of wildlife that live in Eastern Oregon also make their home on and wander through my rangeland and forested pieces. The birds nest and fly, the fish swim in my reservoir and I welcome the diversity. Fences usually offer no barrier to any of this wildlife, as they do to keep domestic cattle, sheep and horses in a confined area. No wolf sees a normal livestock fence as an obstacle.

We were lulled into a false sense of security after a few months of seeming quiet. The few weeks of restful sleep we did manage was brought to an end in August with the latest confirmed kills, three sheep and a pet goat, again, just below our homes during the night.

When I see the emotional polarization in the news and wolf forums and opinion boards, I realize this ‘wolf experiment’ is a very complex issue. We need to solve this dilemma head on, because according to our neighbors in Idaho and Montana, the wolves are going to keep coming.

Under Oregon’s wolf management policy, I can’t shoot a wolf, even when the animal is attacking my family or livestock. If I do, I get fined and jailed for a year. From my experience, the wolf has to be managed for the animal he is. His nature cannot override that of a human settlement. I am trying to make a living and continue my families’ life work here on the ranch in this beautiful state. Like many Oregonians, I am a businessman who relies on our laws and legislators to protect our livelihood so we can provide for our families.

At the least, I join with Oregon Cattlemen’s Association members in asking the Legislature to change the language in the wolf policy to where a wolf can be taken when seen attacking, biting, molesting, chasing or harassing livestock, herding or guarding animals, working and sporting dogs and family pets.

I liken this situation to the fellow who has his lunch pail taken every day on his way to work. He can’t do a thing to fight back, just hand it over. It gets old after a while.


Curt Jacobs is a Baker County rancher.