Published: Monday, June 20, 2011, 5:48 PM Updated: Tuesday, June 21, 2011, 5:57 AM
Earlier this year lawmakers heard emotional testimony on several proposals addressing the migration of the gray wolf back to Oregon. The most controversial of the proposals would have made it easier to kill wolves.
House Bill 3560 doesn't go that far. But it does direct the Oregon Department of Agriculture to establish and implement a wolf depredation fund providing $100,000 to be used for grants to counties dealing with wolf issues.
The proposal was a top priority for agricultural groups but it had been sidelined in committee since April. It has been resurrected in the final days of the 2011 session following negotiations involving conservationists, cattlemen, the farm bureau, tribal officials and the governor's office.
"I have been working on this since 2005," said Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner. "This is historic. Each side gave a little bit."
The gray wolf is an endangered species in Oregon but wildlife managers report the population is slowly growing in the Northwest. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates there are fewer than 20 wolves in the state, though that may not include pups born in April.
To date, state officials have confirmed 41 livestock losses due to wolves, with the last confirmed kill occurring on June 5.
Since 1987, Defenders of Wildlife has paid western ranchers more than $1.4 million for confirmed livestock kills. But last year the conservation group ended its long-term compensation program after Congress approved new federal money for the same purpose.
Defenders extended its compensation program in Oregon until September to give the state time to set up a fund of its own.
Smith said negotiators held at least a dozen meetings before they could agree on a compensation plan.
The re-written version of House Bill 3560 would establish a "Wolf Management Compensation and Proactive Trust Fund" to compensate farmers when it can be confirmed that a wolf has killed their livestock or when there is "probable cause" to think a wolf was involved.
The bill also provides training and financial assistance for non-lethal wolf control.
Justin Martin, a lobbyist for Defenders of Wildlife, says the compromise ensures there are resources available to help manage wolves' return.
"It's good for wolves, good for conservationists, good for farmers and ranchers and good for Oregonians," he said.
The bill must pass both the House and Senate but now appears to be on a fast-track, clearing the Joint Ways & Means Committee by unanimous, bipartisan vote.
Smith said this is likely the only wolf bill to get a floor vote this year.