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Ranching in the West, a delicate dance with Wolves

We sure are grateful for the wide open spaces we get to call home here in the Oregon High Desert, but it comes with its challenges. Predation isn’t new to ranching, but it’s becoming an increasingly familiar challenge for Western ranchers, particularly those in Eastern to Central Oregon.

With the influx of wolf populations in Oregon comes conflict; that between rancher and wolf, and rancher and governing policy on these predators. It’s a fine balance between conservation of wildlife and conservation of our food supply.

Wolves began a more formal return to the State of Oregon in 1999, with a first pack established in 2008. By 2021, there were a reported 175 wolves within 21 packs, making 16 breeding pairs. At 1875 we have seen this change first hand; with seemingly migratory wolves appearing to hang around a bit longer, and eventually popping up more frequently surrounding our homesteads. But where does this new Grey Wolf influence in the region turn into a depredation report on the ODFW website? How accurate is our understanding of wolf activity, given the vastness of our geographic locations and the rugged landscapes that they travel through? And most importantly, are communication lines between state representatives of ODFW effective in informing ranchers of changes in wolf activity or their rights as landowners in preventing depredation of their stock?

ODFW recently published these documents to their site as part of their Wolf Updates forum designed to give updates to the public on activity, confirmed depredation, and lethal permits issued and expired/discontinued, among other things. Year over year changes show the new presence of the Interstate Pair, and OR145 (a single female wolf now presumed to be accompanied by a partner).

Coinciding with these maps published on December 31st, 2023 are a handful of resources relating to depredation risk management as stated by ODFW,

"Within Areas of Known Wolf Activity (AKWA) certain preventative measures are recommended to minimize wolf-livestock conflicts. Though not required, non-lethal measures are important to reduce depredation.  If depredation becomes chronic and lethal control become necessary, ODFW’s ability to lethally remove depredating wolves will be dependent on the extent that non-lethal measures have been used and documented. Wolves in Lake County are currently listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act, so all management related to harassment and take of wolves is regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, not ODFW."

It's information that comes in contrast to much of what local ranchers, and those of us at 1875, have found to be provided to us in terms of our access to protection and mitigation of depredation. Clearly the information is present online, but how accessible are these resources?

It goes further, ODFW has outline a designation called, "Area of Depredating Wolves", essentially consisting of boundary lines where non-lethal deterrent measures can be enacted to prevent depredation or loss of livestock. One exists for Lake County, and encompasses the vast majority of our grazing lands.

Yet while these maps and reports can be found by digging online through keyword searches of wolf activity in the State of Oregon, when discussing this topic with founder and rancher of 1875, Jamie Roscoe, we honed in on a few points of contention that we believe the government, and ODFW specifically, are not taking responsibility for: openly communicating these changes with land owners, assisting in non-lethal deterrent measures and education, and compensation for stock losses where there is reasonable evidence and probable cause.

Put plainly, it is not enough that a PDF exists deep in the forums of the ODFW website. Representatives from these government agencies need to do more to inform, collaborate, and make an impactful and landowner-first prioritized presence in our communities. They should work in conjunction with landowners on deterrence efforts, advocate for compensation and protection of livestock, and work harder to keep problem wolves away from populated areas known to support the raising of livestock, much like Silver Lake and the Summer Lake regions.

We work hard to support our communities, and will continue to raise beef and provide food for the tables of friends, family, and community. The topic of wolf protections and livestock risk mitigation is a complicated one, and we hope this brief insight provides space for thought and reflection on what growing wolf populations could mean for our communities if our government supported us in mitigating these risks.

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