When a wolf preys upon livestock, it costs the owner an estimated $850 per head of cattle and about$122 per sheep. Defenders of Wildlife had been paying for a portion of the cost associated with wolf predation on livestock but is transitioning out of the compensation business and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is not authorized by state law to make compensation payments.
A group of Wallowa County ranchers, led by Dennis Sheehy, Rod Childers and Todd Nash, is appealing to the community to help establish a fund to compensate producers who lose livestock to wolf attack.
Local ranchers refer to their industry as a primary economic generator in this region. They believe that money lost to wolf predation is an economic hit felt by the entire community.
Producers recognize that the population in the county may be too small to cover the entire loss incurred due to wolf predation.
They look beyond just the dollar figures, and see the greater importance of a locally established compensation fund as the forming of the structure and organizational concept needed to help access other future compensation programs at the state or federal level, according to Sheehy. He agreed that it would work as a good faith effort to present o state and federal legislators.
Sheehy thinks the local fund could help test the waters and get a sense of whether the nation as a whole would support such a program.
The group is looking to set up a non-profit organization run under the direction of the county with a board of directors assembled from the community.
When asked their opinion of the local people who feel that the best solution is the eradication of the wolf from the ranchlands of northeastern Oregon, Childers first says, "I'd like to pat them on the back and buy them a cup of coffee." He said that their first solution was to trap the wolves and ship them out of here.
Sheehy, Childers and Nash recognize that there are no legal lethal means of dealing with wolves at this point. "We know there is a little heartburn from some in the community about the compensation fund proposal, but rather than just whining about it, we're trying to do something, and that carries weight," said Sheehy.
The cattlemen talk also about the problems they've had with the wolf kill confirmation process and claim that previous compensation programs recognized about one out of every 10 animals lost.
In addition to unconfirmed losses, the ranchers list many other forms of hardship brought on by the appearance of wolf packs in northeastern Oregon. "Another point to make is compensation for injured animals," said Sheehy.
Other costs incurred by ranchers are difficult to translate directly into dollar amounts. Most ranchers use dogs to help bring in cattle and now speak of increased difficulty moving their cows because once introduced to wolves, cattle become nervous around canines. "It takes more people to bring in cows because they get skittish around dogs," said Childers.
Beyond the monetary consideration, the cattlemen mention the cost to their mental health brought about by the howling of a top predator in their county. "It's hard to go to bed at night and relax knowing the wolves are out there," said Childers.