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‘The wolves have moved in’: After Prineville listening session, Bentz plans bill to address wolf-rancher issues

(Update: adding Friday comment by Bentz, plans to seek legislative solution)

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ore., visited the Crook County Fairgrounds in Prineville on Thursday to hold one in a series of listening sessions on the controversial topic of wolves and particularly their impact on ranching, ahead of a congressional hearing on the much-debated subject.

"The wolves have moved in," Bentz said. "We have a couple hundred of them in Oregon, and they're having a hugely negative impact on cattle operations, and on ranching in general."

An aide said representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were invited to take part, as well as the local ranching community.

He said Bentz hopes to use the information from this and other listening sessions to foster dialogue identify solutions to such issues as livestock depredation for a congressional hearing.

About 50 ranchers attended the event and had a chance to speak directly with Bentz about how wolves are affecting their businesses.

There’s an increasing problem of gray wolves attacking ranchers' livestock, putting Central Oregon ranching businesses at risk.

"This is a problem that we have to wake up to every morning," an attendee said. "This is something that we live, that we now budget for, because this problem is in our backyard."

The gray wolf is currently listed on the federal Endangered Species Act in some parts of the state, meaning they're given a range of protections, including prohibitions on killing or harming them, and that ranchers are limited in ways to protect their livestock. East of US Highway 395, the gray wolf has been removed from the ESA, but not west of the highway. 

Bentz said, "The challenge is to have them, the wolf, de-listed on both sides of the highway, de-listed in Oregon at the federal level. So these are the ones that are bad actors, that go out and kill cattle and then cost rural America all of the fortune and be, quote, 'controlled.' That means if they're killing cattle, those wolves need to be removed, and that means they have to be killed." 

There are about 178 wolves in Oregon, according to the ODFW population count for 2022. Each wolf eats about 20 pounds in a single meal and target large hoofed mammals. According to ODFW's 2022 annual Wolf Report, 51 Oregon wolves were removed due to livestock conflicts and 458 livestock killed by wolves in 2022.

Bentz said he is looking for numbers and data from ranchers about how the cattle are impacted and how they're fiscally impacted. 

"How many calves are lost? Somebody's cows are lost," Bentz said. "But more to the point, how that psychological impact on your herd drives down birth rates and those kinds of numbers, and the amount of money it takes to have someone protect your property."

Another event participant said, "While we're early into this, we could definitely do something now before it gets out of hand. its already out pf hand early. That's why we're all here."

The congressman said he plans to go back to Washington and advocate for the removal of wolves from the Endangered Species Act west of Highway 395.

In a news release sent Friday, Bentz said: "The growing population of wolves across Oregon is wreaking havoc for ranchers, farmers, and sportsmen. Ranchers are tired of seeing their cattle chased around and killed and hunters are tired of seeing a decline in mule deer populations.

"Thanks to the many people who shared their stories with me today, I can begin to use my position as the Chair of the Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries Subcommittee to educate others in Congress about this growing issue. I look forward to working on a legislative solution to fix this problem when I get back to DC."

Article Topic Follows: Prineville

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Matthew Draxton

Matthew Draxton is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthew here.


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