Program aimed at reimbursing ranchers for livestock killed by wolves

The Wolf Depredation Compensation Committee is responsible for repaying the value of the livestock back to ranchers if they fall prey to a wolf attack. (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Wolves are a likely enemy for Oregon's rural livestock ranchers-- mainly because the canine hunters have occasionally made livestock their prey.

That's where the Wolf Depredation Compensation Committee comes in.

After wolves were reintroduced to Oregon, the committee was formed in light of farming concerns. If a rancher's livestock is killed by a wolf, the committee is in charge of repaying the value of the livestock back to its owner.

But ranchers have to jump through several hoops before they can claim a wolf attack.

First, the kill has to proven to be caused by a wolf. Considering their unique method of kill, the Committee's Chair says identifying victims of wolf attacks is an easy feat.

"It's very easy to tell. If you get the carcass in time, you can tell by the size of the bites," said Paul Lewis, Committee Chair for Wolf Depredation Compensation Committee. "There's big rip marks on the rear end. There's usually tracks, which you can't mistake a wolf track. They're huge."

Lewis says ranchers also have to demonstrate that they have non-lethal methods in place to deter wolves from approaching their livestock. Even after all the boxes are checked, he says ranchers are often delayed payment because claims can't be submitted until the end of each year.

"They've suffered the loss. If they have a loss in February, we can't even send in the request until the end of the year, and they won't get paid until the next February."

In 2017, the committee doled out a little more than $4,000 to compensate ranchers for five confirmed wolf kills.

The year before that, payment for three kills totaled about $3,800.

Funds for compensation comes from grant money provided by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

What's left of last year's grant--$10,000-- is in the process of being spent.

"If we cannot get that worked out before the end of January, we will be turning back the $10,000," said Lani Hickey, Klamath County's Environmental Resource Manager, during Thursday's committee meeting.

The committee wants to put the remaining funds towards a trailer they can lend ranchers to remove livestock carcasses from their farms.

Lewis says livestock producers generally lose at least one animal a year-- whether it fell victim to natural causes or a predator attack. When that happens, he says ranchers often collect bodies into what's called a "dead pile."

According to Lewis, removing the bones instead of keeping them in the pile could help ranchers keep their distance from wolf packs.

"If you have one [death] a year, well over five years, you've got a lot of bones," said Lewis. "One of the attractants for wolves has been known to be these bone piles."

Committee members are still working out grant funding for 2018. On Thursday's meeting, they moved to ask the ODA for another $10,000. They're looking at putting that money towards purchasing additional tracking collars to better understand where the wolves travel.

There was also talk of using the grant money to host a workshop to educate the public on how to handle wolf depredation situations.

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