Watered down wolf bill

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board April 29, 2013 08:48 am

As we expected, the Oregon Legislature has watered down a bill that would give landowners much more authority to kill wolves on their property.

The amended version of House Bill 3452 is a slight improvement over the current situation, but it’s not likely to benefit ranchers in Northeastern Oregon, where all of the state’s known wolf packs live and where all confirmed wolf attacks on livestock have happened.

The original version of the bill would have allowed landowners, on their property, to kill any wolf that is “reasonably believed by the person to have attacked or harassed, livestock or working dogs.”

That’s an attractive standard for ranchers, to be sure, but it’s too subjective to pass muster in the Democrat-controlled Capitol.

Besides which, that word “reasonably,” so beloved by lawyers, would likely lead to prolonged court battles that would more than offset any advantages the law might afford ranchers.

On the one hand, since wolves have proved that they will attack livestock in Oregon, a rancher could argue that any wolf he sees near livestock has at least “harassed” livestock, another less-than-concrete term.

On the other hand, were a rancher to shoot a wolf and then be unable to prove the animal had harassed livestock — offer up a calf with claw marks, for instance — odds are high that pro-wolf groups would complain despite the law.

The amended version attempts to strike a balance, albeit one which does little to help ranchers.

The main change from the current situation is this: A landowner who sees a wolf attacking livestock or working dogs could, if the bill becomes law, kill the attacking wolf without getting a permit from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

This isn’t likely.

Although ODFW has issued kill permits to many landowners in Wallowa County over the past several years, none has caught a wolf attacking livestock.

But as rare as such an episode might be, it makes more sense to allow the rancher to act at that instant to protect his animals than to require that he obtain a permit that he might never have occasion to use.