County to seek a paltry $5K for wolf damages

<p>Harsin Butte on the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve is located within the 4,400 acres proposed for designation as a National Natural Landmark.</p>

Rancher compensation for wolf depredation and an effort to give national recognition to the Zumwalt Prairie for its ecological and geological uniqueness topped the agenda at the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners’ meeting Monday morning.

Consensus among the three commissioners and an audience of possibly a dozen people was that the amount the board will seek for compensation for 2012 wolf kills from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) – $5,396 – is well below actual damages.

Cynthia Warnock, administrator of the Wolf Compensation Committee that determined the amount to be requested, said compensation only is available to ranchers after the Sheriff’s Office has judged that a specific kill qualifies as a probable or confirmed wolf kill.

Enterprise-based Oregon State University extension agent, John Williams, put the problem in perspective by citing a study from the state of Idaho, which has lived with wolf issues far longer than Wallowa County. In that study, said Williams, it was determined that only one of eight cows killed by wolves is found.

Commissioner Susan Roberts noted that for 2012, $100,000 was set aside by the Oregon state legislature to combat the wolf problem in Oregon, and about $40,000 of that amount was funneled to Wallowa County.

“Wallowa County got the bulk of the money because we are the most heavily hit,” Roberts said.

A spokesman for the Wallowa County National Resources Advisory Committee (NRAC), Rod Childers, arrived at the conclusion of the wolf segment of the public meeting, but did add that between 1999 and 2010 ODFW spent between $4 million and $5 million of federal and state money on the wolf issue.

“We have to keep pounding to the folks in Salem that the wolf problem is far greater than they know,” said Commissioner Mike Hayward.

Asked to submit feedback in regards to wolves, Wallowa County Sheriff Steve Rogers spoke of hidden costs impacting the wolf problem. He stated that he and his sheriff predecessor Fred Steen, who remains employed in the sheriff’s office, have “stacks and stacks and stacks of reports we’ve responded to.”

Zumwalt Prairie

A proposal to earmark 4,400 acres of The Nature Conservancy’s 33,000-acre plot of land at Zumwalt Prairie as a National Natural Landmark was introduced to the commissioners.

Nature Conservancy representatives Jeff Fields, of Enterprise, and Derek Johnson, of Portland, told commissioners of a potential registry inclusion that would generate no changes at the site located near Harsin Butte.

Selected from among five possible sites in the Pacific Northwest to exemplify plateau grasslands, among them Clear Lake Ridge in Wallowa County, the determination of whether Harsin Butte will be so honored will be made by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, said Fields.

A potential glitch as to when that decision will be made has to do with a changing of the guard in the position of Secretary of the Interior. Fields expresses his hope that a determination regarding Harsin Butte will be made before current Secretary Ken Salazar leaves that office at the end of February. If not, it could take an additional six months before it’s learned if that segment of Zumwalt Prairie will be designated as a National Natural Landmark, projected Fields.

“This is not about The Nature Conservancy,” said Johnson. “We are honored to be stewards and bring national recognition in a positive way to what you have known all along, that the Zumwalt Prairie is a unique place on all the earth.”

If added to the mix, Harsin Butte would become the tenth National Natural Landmark in the state of Oregon.

In another item of business, the commissioners set March 4 at 10 a.m. for a public hearing to discuss a proposed zone change from recreation residential (R-2) to rural commercial on property known as the Krieger Property located within the city of Enterprise’s watershed protection area.

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