Oppose Welfare Ranchers like Chad DelCurto
Questionable Payments To Oregon Ranchers Who Blame Wolves For Missing Cattle
Many western states pay livestock operators for cattle and sheep lost to wolves depredation. But an investigation found Oregon is making questionable payments to ranchers!
Chad DelCurto parked his pickup beside the road winding the Snake River canyon, surveying the jagged green edge of Oregon where his cattle grazed. This is where he lost them.
There’s ample feed and room to wander on these remote and rugged stretches of public land. But there’s added risk to open range: harsh weather, disease, rustlers, predators.
“This is the reality — this is outside, all natural, grass-fattened beef,” he said.
DelCurto dresses in denim from neck to ankle, with mud-splattered black on his boots and hat. He’s been ranching all his life, and he’s teaching his 9-year-old son to do the same.
Last year, DelCurto claimed he lost 41 calves and 11 cows out here in Baker County. Each calf could be worth over $700, the cows almost twice that.
He blames wolves. Alerts from state wildlife officials showed them in the area. He said the landscape showed some scat and tracks. And he could sense it in his cattle.
“You got up in there and tried to move them, could tell they’d been spooked,” DelCurto said. “I can’t prove it because there’s no carcasses, but I know damn good and well the wolves had a big part in it.”
So DelCurto filed for state-funded compensation for the losses, just as he did for nine missing cattle the year before.
But here’s the issue: There hasn’t been a confirmed wolf kill of livestock in Baker County since 2012. And according to state biologists, there are only three known resident wolves in the county. Given that, a wolf-related loss of that size, with no carcass to show, would be unheard of.
Despite all that, the Baker County wolf compensation board approved DelCurto’s claim. That left one state official with the dilemma of whether to deny the rancher compensation or approve a loosely documented claim so large it would have decimated the state program’s budget.
Ever since wolves’ return in the West, states have experimented with some form of compensation for ranchers, with mixed results.
Since 2012, Oregon has kicked in money for ranchers to hire range riders and purchase radios and fence lining, called fladry, to deter wolves. The state has also compensated livestock operators for both confirmed or unconfirmed losses of cattle, sheep or working dogs. It’s a well-regarded program that provides some relief for ranchers feeling the added strain of a returned predator: even some of the wolf-advocate groups who clash with ranchers say it was necessary.
But an EarthFix examination found the state has made a questionable pattern of payments that contradicts established knowledge of the state’s wolf population.
The investigation also found state and county officials do not take all the necessary steps to confirm claims of missing livestock and ensure a limited money pool flows toward legitimate claims of wolf kills. That can mean less money to prevent wolf conflicts, and less money for documented losses.
With no consistent system for verifying unfound livestock losses, the state has little way of knowing for sure whether it’s denying some ranchers their due compensation or paying out claims it shouldn’t.
No biological explanation
Chart the payments year over year, and a pattern emerges.
Since 2012, payments for missing cattle have increased when actual confirmed losses did not. Experts say those rates should track together.
“There is no possible biological or ecological explanation for this,” said Luigi Boitani, an international expert on wolves who reviewed the data. In 2010, the University of Rome professor uncovered problems with wolf compensation in his home country of Italy.