Oregon ranchers wonder what’s next
Since 2009, Oregon ranchers have been vigilant against wolves preying on their livestock.
Ranchers throughout the state, along with the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association in Salem, have paid careful attention to what’s happened on their land concerning wolves because wolf depredations directly impact the bottom line of not only ranchers, but also directly affects the economy and what’s put on plates at American dinner tables. After all, cattle is the No. 2 agricultural commodity in Oregon at more than $669 million in 2013 alone, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Along with also paying attention to the legal ranglings of wolves at state and federal levels, Oregon ranchers are now in an awkward position with the Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife’s latest wolf depredation investigation. Last month, ODFW officials confirmed that a wolf from the Umatilla Pack was responsible for killing a sheep in late-August, bringing the total of recent qualified wolf depredations to three. It’s a significant stepping stone because in order for state officials to authorize a wolf killing, certain conditions need to be met. One of those conditions is that the rancher has taken non-lethal steps to protect their livestock. Another condition is that state officials must feel wolf attacks will likely continue despite more non-lethal protections. The third condition is that officials must supply undeniable proof that a wolf or wolves are responsible for four livestock attacks in a six-month period.
With three attacks now confirmed by officials, Oregon ranchers are in a bit of unfamiliar territory. Do they hope for another confirmed wolf depredation for state officials to possibly authorize a wolf kill that would stop depredations or do they simply hope another wolf attack on their cattle doesn’t happen?
“We don’t wish another rancher has another qualified event on any fellow producer,” said Clint Sexson, the president of the Umatilla County Cattlemen’s Association. “However, given the past events, another qualified event is anticipated. When, and if, that point does come, we are prepared to do our part to see that due process does follow through. We are only really looking for some kind of restitution for our many hours of worry and losses to our families and our operations.”
Joseph rancher Todd Nash, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association Wolf Committee Chairman, said the situation is simply a difficult for both ranchers and non-ranchers.
“It’s a negative thing to kill a wolf and for it to come that,” he said. “It’s one of those no-win situations that we get into as an industry.”
Even if a wolf does not attack, a wolf’s mere presence can dramatically affect livestock. The harassed livestock not only lose valuable weight from being chased by a wolf, but livestock also have their grazing habits disturbed due to the wolf presence. As a result, livestock do not regain those valuable pounds back quickly, if they do at all. Both are major economic losses to Oregon cattlemen.
The presence of wolves also play key roles in lost pregnancies in livestock. The pregnant animal that is harassed has a higher risk of losing her growing fetus — not only from being chased by wolves, but from the uneasiness that results from the wolves being present. Both cause higher levels of cortisol in the blood, which can result in the loss of a pregnancy.
Injuries and infections from wolf attacks also significantly affect livestock. The reduced weight and quality of the animal — plus the cost of time, veterinarian bills and antibiotics for recovery — substantially reduce the sale value of the livestock. Basically, the rancher has a slim chance to break even financially in this case, and they most likely will suffer a significant economic loss.
While much of this may seem only pertinent to Oregon cattlemen and those in related industries, the devastating impact of wolf depredations carry far beyond the rancher. In fact, it can trickle all the way down to the average consumer. How? One single cow can be worth at least $15,000 based on not only its physical characteristics, but how many calves it can produce in its lifetime. For instance, if a person was to buy a 2-year-old heifer, it would cost approximately $2,500. Throughout its lifetime, a cow can produce an average of 10 calves. Each of those calves is worth approximately $1,500, making each cow capable of generating $15,000. If their initial investments in in these cows are lost, it could result in driving the cost of beef higher than it already is. Even more significant is that according to the Cattle Inventory Report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the 87.7 million head of cattle in the United States is the lowest since 1951, which means sin ce if there are fewer cattle, beef prices for the American consumer may spike.
Nash also said wolf depredations on cattle have other ancillary effects. If a calf or cow is killed by a wolf, others involved in the beef production process are negatively affected. Nash said a cow or calf that’s killed by a wolf depredation won’t go through the processing plant, the distributor and retailer before a cut of beef finally lands on a plate in front of the consumer. All of those employed people along the way – all the way down to the waiter who serves the beef to the consumer – won’t benefit economically if a wolf attacks a cow or calf.
All of these factors are important in the wolf depredation issue regarding Oregon cattlemen.
“In the Oregon rancher’s case, it seems that the wolves only slip away to not only linger nearby to cause more harm, but to continually antagonize our livelihood and future,” Sexson said.
If the standards on wolf depredations are met that could allow state officials to issue a kill order, Oregon ranchers are steadfast: They want action to be taken.
“One of the problems with the Umatilla Pack, though, is they got so used to living right next to residents and killing right next to houses. Human presence has no value to them in a situation like that. Those types of wolves need to have a reverent fear of people and their dwellings,” Nash said. “But if it does go to lethal control, I hope (state officials) are effective and they take out the wolves and all of the wolves that have been part of that behavior. Anything short of that is not going to be effective management.”
In the meantime, Oregon ranchers and producers will continue to do all they can to protect their livelihood against the growing Oregon wolf population, evident by the recent news of wolf OR-7 finding a mate and having puppies. In fact, the wolf population in Oregon is growing 33 percent per year, doubling the wolf population every two years.
“We have seen the count escalate to this point before and the results were not necessarily favorable,” Sexson said. “So, it is definitely a waiting game and we don’t have control.”
Ultimately, though, Nash said the entire situation is one where nobody wins.
“Wolves in Oregon are going to be in constant conflict with people in Oregon. We’re not only going to have dead livestock, but we’re going to have dead wolves — legally and illegally — and people are going to be upset on both sides. It’s not fair to the wolves, either, being in this situation.”