By Katy Nesbitt
For Wallowa Valley Online
SALEM, Ore – Nearly four years after the Oregon wolf plan’s 2015 update deadline passed wildlife managers are preparing the final version to be presented at the March 15 Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Salem.
Diametrically opposing views mired the review process – wolf advocates wanted more protection while hunters and livestock producers asked for less restrictive management. However, before talks broke down in early January some headway had been made regarding livestock management with wolves on the landscape.
In an attempt to help ranchers in wolf country deter conflict, Suzanne Stone of Defenders of Wildlife said she suggested the use site-specific plans designed with local biologists in a stakeholder meeting.
Stone said, “In high conflict areas, or potential areas, being more proactive may help ranchers to not have as many problems.”
Usually biologists aren’t called to a ranch until there is a problem, Stone said, but she suggested ranch specific, or even valley specific, protocols could lead to more effective management. She recommended the proper use of electrified flagging, known as fladry, noisemakers and other methods to scare away wolves.
“Everyone wants to avoid conflict and losses,” Stone said. “If we could get people to trust in these methods they would understand their effectiveness.”
Identifying carcass pits and bone piles, Stone said, is a good place to start.
“Carcass pits are a bad idea and a really big attractant for wolves and other predators,” Stone said.
Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands said his group also supports of site-specific plans.
In an email Cady wrote, “Consensus has emerged around the concept of focusing non-lethal preventative efforts up front, to prevent conflict between wolves and livestock before it begins. It has always been our goal for the state to emphasize preventing these conflicts before they begin instead of killing wolves, which has proven ineffective at preventing future conflicts.”
Over the past 10 years Wallowa County ranchers have learned a lot about living with wolves. Cynthia Warnock and her husband Dan have had several head of cattle wounded or killed on their Imnaha River ranch. She also administers the county’s compensation program that pays producers for livestock loss to wolves.
“In a stakeholder meeting I was asked if I would be willing to do a site-specific plan since I know about compensation and losses, experienced it personally and know what the nonlethal measures are,” Warnock said.
Using a list posted on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wolf web page Warnock said she put a plan together and had it reviewed by Pat Matthews, Enterprise district biologist, who gave her some suggestions.Warnock said what she ended up with was a checklist, including the Fish and Wildlife biologist’s role, which other producers could use as a model.
At the end of 2018 stakeholders involved in the review process mulled over the proposal. Derek Broman, carnivore coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, said Warnock’s plan echoed one put out by Defenders of Wildlife.
“Her structure and criteria matched a site specific outline by Defenders, proving that both sides are recognizing how this would look,” Broman said.
On paper, preparing a checklist with a local biologist made sense, but when the state ran some numbers, Broman said the agency discovered there are 44,000 livestock producers in Oregon.
“We could be looking at tens of thousands of site specific plans,” Broman said.
Even if 44,000 site-specific plans are not doable, the state does support ranchers being proactive before a wolf shows up, Broman said. As for the stakeholders, he said they were encouraged to pursue site-specific plans legislatively in hopes of creating more funding for nonlethal deterrents.
Broman said, “Site specific plans are a bit of a sidebar, but we need to steer back to major topics like funding for collaring, monitoring and assisting with nonlethal deterrents. As wolves continue to grow, how is the agency going to take on that burden?”
While wolf advocates and livestock producers may have agree about keeping good records in a plan to reduce wolf/livestock conflict, they did not see eye-to-eye on how many head of livestock should be injured or killed before wolves are killed. The disagreements lead to the end of environmentalist involvement in negotiations and their absence at the last stakeholder meeting held Jan. 8.
Broman said, “We were disappointed these groups left the discussion and we did not have the full stakeholder group present at the final meeting. Since the drafting of the original 2005 plan, stakeholders remain very passionate so consensus is challenging to achieve.”
A Fish and Wildlife press release said stakeholders were able to find some consensus on wolf collaring priorities, the desire to increase the use of nonlethal techniques and funding-enhanced population modeling.
Meanwhile, Broman said the potential for wolves to show up anywhere increases, like Jackson County where wolves are still federally protected and the Rogue Pack has racked up a long list of kills. Steve Niemela, district wildlife biologist in Central Point, said mostly what he and other state biologists do in western Oregon is support the federal agencies.
“We have a policy to have communication between all agencies,” Niemela said. “We work together and help each other out.”
Niemela said his staff helps remove livestock carcasses and organized a bone collection event besides assisting federal staff.
“On the ground we’ve been doing a lot of investigations and making determinations for loss compensation,” Niemela said.
Landowners in southwestern Oregon have been introduced to fladry, fox lights that go off at random times during the night and “critter getters” – a box that is motion-activated and lets off loud, piercing bird songs.
Niemela said his staff does a lot of game camera monitoring set up around the fladry to determine where wolves were breaching the flagging.
“Because of federal protection, there are no lethal control options at all, but we haven’t met our conservation goal according to the state plan, either,” Niemela said.
“To conserve wolves we have to meet the four breeding pair minimum standard in western Oregon so we can work toward managing wolves like we do everything else. Wolf management isn’t just a biological decision – it’s social and political.”