Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts says she expects “two really irate (livestock) producers” will speak their minds when they find out how little federal and state money is being made available to reimburse cattle and sheep raisers in Wallowa, Baker, Union and Umatilla counties for losses attributed to wolves in the past year.
While a total of $3,920 is coming for four wolf depredations in Wallowa County that were confirmed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), payments for most indirect losses apparently won’t be made unless the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) intercedes. Since March 2014 in Wallowa County, indirect losses that should be reimbursable total $33,200, and the figure for Baker County is even higher.
Although much more federal and state money, a maximum of $106,000, is available for proactive investments in non-lethal deterrence measures, livestock producers who put their animals out to pasture and record significantly fewer returns at season’s end — a phenomenon associated with growing wolf numbers — aren’t guaranteed any reimbursement money.
Roberts sent her annual wolf depredation reports for Wallowa County to the ODA last week, and expects a final determination about how that agency will disperse funds in mid-April. Roberts, who declined to name the two producers she believes are being hit hardest by the lack of funding to reimburse indirect wolf kills, was nonetheless animated in describing the predicament they face.
She estimated that maybe nine or more livestock producers in the county have stock in wolf-patrolled territory and have maintained excellent livestock records over at least the past 10 years, qualifying them to seek indirect wolf loss reimbursements. Yet, she says, only three filed for such potential funding in Wallowa County within the last year.
Roberts suggested the other half dozen or so might not wish to share confidential information, especially since monetary reimbursements could be small or nonexistent.
Among the four direct-loss victims due to be reimbursed from the $3,920 total is the Went Operation on Crow Creek, which lost 23 sheep in one wolf attack May 30, two calves in separate incidents in the Chesnimnus area, and one calf near Imnaha.
The funding breakdown for non-lethal measures includes a maximum of $53,000 from the federal government, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the state (for each dollar spent), and $40,000 of that total already has been requested by the county to hire range riders during the next 12 months.
In years past, said Roberts, about $15,000 of non-lethal deterrence money went to purchase five miles of turbo-fladry — flapping red plastic flagging with electrical wiring. She said the fladry was only minimally effective in protecting livestock from wolves, however.
She indicates the only way any or all of the $33,200 of indirect wolf losses suffered here, and more elsewhere, could be refunded in 2015 is if the ODA redirects some of the state money it was going to use for the dollar-for-dollar match on the feds’ non-lethal spending.
According to Roberts, indirect livestock losses to wolves are calculated by using herd histories for the previous 10 years, establishing a base percentage of livestock that are brought back in after being turned out for grazing. Thereafter, if the percentage of returning cattle is lower than usual, the producer should be eligible for some reimbursement.
Roberts points out that indirect losses steadily have increased in tandem with the rise of the wolf population here. ODFW’s latest annual wolf population report for Oregon, released Feb. 24, reported a minimum total of 77 wolves in Oregon compared to a minimum total of 14 wolves at the conclusion of 2009.
Roberts says she has conferred with the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association on the issue of funding producers’ indirect losses. She has also spoken with two state legislators and has drafted proposed state legislation that would provide tax credits for the losses. Currently, producers approved for direct loss compensation have the option of receiving tax credits in lieu of cash reimbursements, but no such option is available for indirect losses, which often reflect depredations occurring in remote areas where ODFW confirmation isn’t feasible.