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Ore. ranchers cry for wolf hearings

The Olympian April 17, 2009

BAKER CITY, Ore. Ranchers are pressing the Oregon Legislature for legislation to let them track and kill wolves that attack livestock.

The Baker City Herald said that earlier this week, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that wolves had killed sheep at a Baker County ranch in two attacks, the first such since wolves began re-entering the state from Idaho.

Rancher Curt Jacobs says the death toll is now 24.

Endangered species laws forbid ranchers to kill wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock - leaving that to wildlife agents.

Ranchers and others at a meeting Thursday in Baker City made plans to lobby the Legislature to hold hearings on a bill that would expand ranchers' options in wolf control and amend it to spell out their right to track and kill the predators.

During the packed meeting of the Baker County Livestock Association, Jacobs narrated a video showing the bodies of dead lambs, with close-up footage of bite wounds.

Before a motion-sensing camera caught the wolves in the act, Jacobs said the ODFW investigation appeared to be focused on pinning the blame on his dogs, a neighbor's dogs or coyotes.

Although current federal and state endangered species laws do not allow ranchers to kill wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock, federal protection is set to expire under a May 4 de-listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for wolves in the Northern Rockies region, which includes northeastern Oregon.

Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners, said commissioners always felt the county would be one of the first areas to experience wolf depredation of livestock after the state reversed its policy of returning wolves to Idaho when they strayed into Oregon.

The policy was used just once, in 1999, when a wolf made its way into Oregon from Idaho, where a wolf recovery program was supposed to be limited to the Northern Rockies in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in Montana and Wyoming.

One of the first transplanted wolves confirmed to have entered Oregon passed through Baker County before it was trapped in Grant County in 1999 and returned to Idaho.

Jacobs told fellow ranchers Thursday that photos and other information from the sheep attacks at his ranch were sent to a wolf specialist at Montana Sate University.

The Montana expert told him the wolves involved in the attack are younger wolves, most likely part of a pack that has been established nearby on the fringe of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, which begins 15 miles from the sheep pens, and the homes, barns and shops on the Jacobs ranch.

"You better tell everybody with a cow or a calf to start looking around, because you've got a pack out there, and these are the young ones," Jacobs said.

Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf coordinator, and Carter Niemeyer, a retired wolf tracker who volunteered to help out, have installed flag fencing around the sheep pens to discourage further wolf attacks.

But after two days of unsuccessful trapping efforts, the Baker City Herald reported they have moved on to higher ground in hopes of trapping one of the wolves near the timberline, which starts about five or six miles from the Jacobs ranch.

Peggy Browne, president of the Baker County Farm Bureau, said Friday is the deadline set by the legislative leadership for scheduling a hearing for bills this session.

Farm and ranch groups had until the end of the day on Friday to convince lawmakers to place House Bill 3383 on a committee schedule for a future hearing date.

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