Wolves on the horizon worry C.O. ranchers

In less than two years, wolves could call region home

Wolves on the horizon worry C.O. ranchers

BEND, Ore. - Patricia Moore's guardian dogs have taken on cougars. Her llamas could stomp a coyote to death. And half of her 80-acre farm on the outskirts of Bend is carefully fortified -- complete with an electric fence.

It's all to protect her farm and the 100 South African Boer goats Moore raises for meat.

"If the coyotes were to get in without my guard dogs, they'd take them down," Moore said.

In 20 years of ranching, Moore has never lost a goat to wild animals.

But as wolf packs in Eastern Oregon continue to move west, she is worried her protections might not be enough.

"It's very scary," Moore said. "If the wolves start start killing the dogs, we're going to have to start taking other measures, which I don't want to do."

And according to Bend U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist John Stephenson, it's not a matter of if wolves come to the area, but when.

"They are moving further west," he said. "The nearest pack is still about 200 miles east of Bend here, so it will probably be a couple years."

Stephenson said wolves are native to the U.S. and Oregon, but were wiped out by some of the state's first settlers.

Wolves first started coming back into the U.S. in the 1980s -- from Canada into Montana -- but wolves in Oregon didn't come on their own. They are descendents of packs reintroduced into Idaho in the mid 1990s by the federal government.

"We have six packs in northeastern Oregon, and a population of at least 50 wolves, probably more," Stephenson said.

He said ranchers in Central Oregon will need to take precautions: making sure to remove bone piles, using range riders, special fencing and even guard dogs like Moore's.

"Our job, when wolves do arrive, is to try to keep them up in the remote places of Central Oregon, up on the national forest lands," Stephenson said.

He said local biologists will track the wolves, keep track of the young and kill any that become too much of a nuisance to farmers.

He added that populations will also have to be managed to allow enough deer and elk for hunters.

Oregon recently enacted a program to compensate ranchers and farmers for livestock lost to wolves.

 It's an issue clouded by controversy.

"It's a bit of a dilemma, because the people who want wolves the most tend to be from more urban areas," Stephenson explained. "And the people living in rural areas that are having to live with the wolves are less excited about it."

Although Moore says she would kill wolves if she had to, she hopes her farm can continue to coexist with wildlife in peace.

"Our philosophy has always been to leave a small footprint," she said.  "You know, we're visiting -- everybody was here before us. So it would be very hard for me, and I hope we never get to that point."

And whether you love wolves or hate them, it is clear they're coming, and working together is key.

"What we need is cooperation," Stephenson said. "We need the livestock community, we need the environmental community that is very pro-wolf to appreciate each others concerns."

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