If you think the wolf compensation legislation that passed the Oregon Legislature last month marks the end to the wolf controversy in our state — well, we’ve got beachfront property in Seneca to sell you.

HB 3560, sponsored by Rep. Greg Smith (R-Heppner), got a 60-0 vote in the House, and also gained the approval of the Senate and Gov. John Kitzhaber. 

Statewide, however, the battle over how to manage Canis lupis is far from over. Mix wolves, humans and throw in a herd of cattle (or sheep) and you’ve the ingredients for an emotionally-charged, highly polarizing feud likely to continue for generations. 

For the record, gray wolves are predators that live and roam in families, and  primarily feed on ungulates such as elk, deer, cattle and sheep. Wolves are near the top of the predator pyramid, primarily threatened only by humans. 

In Eastern Oregon, roughly two-thirds of the population believe wolves should be controlled. Statewide, the opposite is true.

Against that divide, few believed that any legislation on the wolf would emerge from the 2011 legislative session in Salem. The House bill, one of several proposed, was declared a goner before a back-from-the-dead revival with the aid of Rep. Bob Jenson (R-Pendleton).

But the real miracle of the passage is that it resulted from an agreement worked out by Smith with the Defenders of Wildlife and Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. Both groups had to compromise to move the bill forward.

The bill creates a compensation fund of $100,000 in financial assistance to those who utilize livestock and nonlethal wolf management techniques.

“This bill is a first step toward addressing wolf depredation in Eastern Oregon. In addition to funding mitigation techniques, the fund would provide compensation to those who suffered a loss or injury because of these animals. With the consensus we’ve reached on the compensation fund, I’m hopeful we can make progress on additional strategies to protect ranchers and their livestock,” Smith said.

The key words here: “first step” and “additional strategies.”

Rep. Jenson reinforced that, calling the bill a “starting point.”

In other words, more legislation dealing with wolves will surface in 2012. We can expect to hear impassioned arguments on both sides – the cattle ranchers who fear the loss of their animals and their livelihood, and the wildlife advocates who want wolves re-established in Oregon’s back yard.

Given the acrimony in Oregon over all things wolf, we hope the debates will focus on facts and avoid hyperbole. Both sides need to continue to seek solutions, through policy and legislation, to keep the reintroduction of wolves from undermining a signature industry – indeed, a culture – of the rural West.

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