Year one of a block grant program for Oregon counties impacted by wolf depredation has gone relatively smoothly, officials said Wednesday, but less funds are available for round two, even as the state's known population of wolves continues to grow.
Nonetheless, the state Department of Agriculture said most everyone agrees that the money spent to compensate Eastern Oregon ranchers for livestock losses and for non-lethal prevention measures is fulfilling its intended purpose.
"Livestock producers have been exceptionally patient through these first years of wolf depredations and population growth," says Rodger Huffman, the ODA's state brand inspector, based in La Grande.
The 2011 Oregon Legislature created the Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance County Block Grant Program and appropriated $100,000 to cover the biennium.
ODA was directed to establish and implement the program, which awards funds to individual Oregon counties affected or likely to be affected by wolf activity.
By working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the agency that performs wolf depredation investigations, county level advisory committees make sure the money compensates ranchers for actual livestock losses caused by wolves. The committees also ensure the monies are spent on proactive efforts to prevent wolf impacts on livestock.
"Year one was a success and the process of granting money to the counties was fairly smooth," says ODA's Jason Barber, who oversees the block grant program. Barber is preparing a report on the status of the program to be delivered this spring to the state legislature.
Last year, ODA, working with Governor Kitzhaber's office, awarded $82,970 to eight counties east of the Cascades– Wallowa, Union, Baker, Umatilla, Grant, Crook, Jefferson, and Malheur.
Four counties were confirmed by ODFW to have resident wolf activity – Wallowa, Union, Umatilla, and Baker. Those counties received 86 percent of the allocated funds. At the time the program was created, only Baker and Wallowa counties had confirmed or probable kills or injuries to livestock by wolves.
As of this month, ODFW has confirmed a total of 64 livestock or domestic animals killed or injured by wolves in Oregon since wolves began returning to the state in the late 1990s.
Wallowa County has experienced the majority of losses, especially since the state's program was put in place. As a result, the county was awarded $13,230 for compensation of ranchers. Livestock owners worked with ODFW to document those losses. No other counties in year one were awarded funds for compensation.
Of the total funding provided by the block grants, $66,500, or 80 percent, was directed towards proactive, non-lethal efforts to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock. All eight counties received funds for prevention ranging from $25,000 in Wallowa to $1,000 in Crook.
The prevention money funded a variety of techniques that seem to effectively reduce wolf conflicts.
"Based on reports we are hearing from the field, it appears range riders are one of the most effective measures– somebody whose job is to go to where the livestock herds are on horseback or on an ATV, looking for wolf activity and keeping them from interacting with the livestock," says Barber.
Both Umatilla and Wallowa counties awarded money to producers employing range riders. Fencing is a common preventative range management measure also funded in the two counties. Fladry – electrified rope with attached colored flagging that flap in the breeze – is another technique designed to scare off wolves.
Two counties that have yet to see wolf activity collaborated this past year on training of livestock operators.
"Jefferson and Crook counties sponsored a wolf forum that attracted about 50 ranchers," says Barber. "The forum focused on prevention and non-lethal methods to reduce interaction between wolves and livestock, and featured guest speakers from ODFW and Oregon State University."
Counties and the ranching community understood that a bulk of the $100,000 provided to the block grant program would be spent in the first year. A new round of grant requests is currently underway for year two of the biennium.
Some of the funds awarded last year have been returned unspent by counties and put back into a trust account. As a result, about $22,000 is available for the current round of funding.
At this time, ODA is receiving and reviewing grant applications from the counties. Three new counties – Wheeler, Morrow, and Klamath – have applied for this year's funds in addition to seven of the original counties.
With the limited amount of money available, awards are expected to only cover compensation of ranchers who have had livestock killed or injured since the last round of funding. Depredation this past year has been documented once again in Wallowa County as well as Baker and Umatilla counties.
"There is a finite amount of money, and the counties agree that it should certainly should go to the folks that have actually experienced livestock losses first," says Barber.
Governor Kitzhaber has included another $100,000 in his 2013-15 recommended budget for the block grant program.
ODFW continues to track known wolf populations as the species re-establishes itself under the state's recovery plan. At the end of 2011, there were 29 known wolves. ODFW's 2012 estimate of Oregon's wolf population was 46 wolves in six known packs.
These estimates are verified through hard evidence, officials say, and the actual number is likely greater.
The best known of these wolves, which has been given the name of OR7, reappeared in southern Oregon earlier this month after crossing the state border from California.
OR7 first made news in 2011 by making the long journey from northeast Oregon to southwest Oregon and finally, Northern California. With that kind of ability to travel long distances, additional counties are keeping an eye open not only for wolves, but funds that can help them deal with wolf-livestock conflicts.