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No wolf kill, no compensation program

Jackson County commissioners have decided against starting a wolf-kill compensation program for now because the county has yet to have a confirmed case of wolves killing livestock.

At least four adult wolves and three pups are believed to roam in remote areas east of Medford. One of those wolves — OR-7, the father of the pups — was in the area where a cow was killed near Prospect in October 2014. State and federal fish and wildlife agency investigators found wolf tracks, but no bite marks inflicted before the cow died. They ruled the cause of death was unknown.

Jackson County's Natural Resources Advisory Committee had recommended commissioners approve a wolf compensation program, which would include setting up a wolf depredation committee. That move is needed before livestock owners could be compensated with state grants for confirmed wolf kills. State grants also can be used for prevention measures to keep wolves away from livestock.

On Thursday, commissioners decided against setting up a wolf depredation committee. But they did agree to task the natural resources committee with doing more research on the issue — better positioning the county to create a wolf compensation program and depredation committee if wolves start killing local livestock.

Commissioner Doug Breidenthal predicted more wolves would begin calling Jackson County home.

"We're on the tip of the iceberg. This is something that's coming," he said.

As part of efforts to restore wolves to the western United States, Canadian wolves were trapped and released in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. Their numbers have grown and they have spread to Oregon, although most wolf packs remain concentrated in northeastern Oregon.

Counties with a history of confirmed wolf kills of livestock receive the bulk of state grants for compensation and prevention programs.

With no confirmed kills on record, Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said the county likely would win only $1,000 to $5,000 in grants to help pay for administrative costs and prevention efforts if it joined the program.

The county would incur expenses, including use of county employee time on the issue and advertising costs to invite people to apply for a wolf depredation committee, Jordan said.

"It may not even be a net gain to our citizens," he said, speaking of the money that would be spent versus grants that could come in.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts said with no wolf kills, she was against establishing another layer of government at this time.

Approximately $110,000 in grants will be available in 2015 to compensate livestock owners for losses in 2014 and help them prevent wolf predation this year, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

In 2014, 18 sheep and four cattle were confirmed killed by wolves in Oregon. Other livestock were confirmed to have been injured by wolves, according to state figures.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture awarded $150,830 in 2014 to eight counties east of the Cascades to cover livestock losses and injuries due to wolves, pay for depredation prevention and help counties administer their wolf depredation committee programs.

At $134,860, Wallowa, Umatilla and Baker counties in northeastern Oregon received the bulk of the money. Most funding went for preventive measures to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock. Those counties have experienced the most wolf predation on livestock, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Prevention measures include burying cow bone piles, setting up alarms that go off when collared wolves approach livestock, sending range riders out on horseback or ATVs and erecting fences.

Some ranchers breed their cows to give birth earlier, then delay turning cattle out onto the open range — giving calves time to grow larger before they face wolves.

Ranchers have complained wolf kills are difficult to confirm, and compensation doesn't cover impacts such as lower birth rates and reduced weight gain among cows stressed by nearby wolves.

The Oregon Wild conservation group has said wolf compensation programs should be temporary as ranchers readjust to wolves that historically roamed the state. The group said ranchers don't win grant funding to cover predation from cougars and bears, and wolves should be no different.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.