Ranchers oppose cuts to wolf compensation, predator control

Two adult wolves from the Walla Walla Pack were caught on remote trail camera Jan. 16, 2016 in northern Umatilla County, Ore. Oregon legislators are considering reductions in funding for predator control and reimbursing ranchers for livestock losses.

SALEM — Ranchers who suffer livestock losses from predators stand to lose state support under both budget scenarios currently proposed for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Funding aimed at predator control and compensation for livestock depredation would be cut under recommendations from Gov. Kate Brown as well as the co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, and Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene.

The proposed cuts drew objections from the livestock industry during a Feb. 22 hearing on ODA’s budget before a panel of Joint Ways and Means Committee members focused on natural resources.

As the wolf population has grown in Oregon, livestock losses have been a continuing source of frustration for ranchers, said Mike Durgan of the Baker County Wolf Compensation Advisory Committee.

Even when wolves don’t kill cattle, they cause health problems that are considered indirect losses and aren’t compensated with state dollars, Durgan said.

Until wildlife officials find a better way to manage the predators, the livestock industry should receive state assistance, he said. “I want to make it clear I’m not advocating killing wolves today.”

Oregon counties have steadfastly contributed money to their partnership with ODA and USDA’s Wildlife Services division to pay for predator control, even as they’ve fallen short of funds for public safety and other vital services, said Craig Pope, a Polk County commissioner.

“We will have no one else to call if we let this partnership fail,” Pope said. “Counties cannot make up the difference of this funding hole.”

The Oregon Hunters Association and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation testified in favor or restoring the state’s full contribution to the predator control program, which they say is necessary to maintain a balance between predators and deer and elk.

Under Gov. Kate Brown’s recommended 2017-2019 budget, the ODA would eliminate $460,000 in state funding for the USDA’s Wildlife Services division, which kills problematic predators.

An ODA program that compensates ranchers for wolf depredation would be funded at $211,000 under the governor’s proposal, compared to $233,000 in the 2015-2017 biennium.

The co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, meanwhile, have proposed a “budget framework” for the upcoming biennium that would decrease funding for the wolf compensation program “and/or reduce funding for predator control.”

While the co-chairs’ budget framework doesn’t specify the exact reductions for ODA programs, it does propose cutting state funding for all natural resource agencies to $405 million, down from $413.6 million during the previous biennium.

Rep. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, said he’s concerned about livestock losses and supports continued assistance from the state but raised concerns about possible hunting of wolves.

While wolves aren’t currently hunted in Oregon, controlled hunts could be allowed during a later phase of wolf recovery under the state’s management plan for the species.

Frederick cautioned against the display of “trophy” wolves killed by hunters, which he said would erode public support for the predator control and wolf compensation programs.

“That’s a political situation that will shut down a great deal,” he said.

Aside from predator control, other ODA programs are on the chopping block under the proposals from Brown and the co-chairs of the Joint Ways & Means Committee.

A coalition of natural resource industry groups — including the Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Association of Nurseries, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and others — urged lawmakers not to curtail those programs.

For example, the co-chairs’ budget framework recommends decreasing the number of positions in ODA’s agricultural water quality program and shifting food safety and pesticide programs from the general fund to program fees.

Industry representatives fear such shifts will effectively increase fees on farmers, ranchers and others.

Under Brown’s budget proposal, about $250,000 in general fund dollars would be cut from ODA’s inspection program for “confined animal feeding operations,” shifting the burden onto fee payers.

A biocontrol program for controlling invasive weeds would also be eliminated, saving $250,000.

Don Farrar, Gilliam County’s weed officer, argued against the proposal because biological control with predatory insects can effectively suppress large infestations of weeds.

“This program has been one of the best in the nation and it would be sad to lose that,” he said.

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