Funding to finance two wildlife services specialists in Douglas County is secure through June 2022, but beyond that month, sources for the needed funds are undetermined.
Funding from Douglas County is questionable as the commissioners announced earlier this year that there are fewer funds to contribute to the program whose mission is “to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist.”
Then in June, the predator control district tax that existed in Douglas and Coos counties for the past five years was not reapproved by the state Legislature and will end Jan. 1, 2022. The district tax program passed the state House and was referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
Despite a strong push from several Democrats and Republicans, rules committee chairperson Sen. Rob Wagner indicated he wouldn’t move the bill out of committee unless the bill banning coyote hunting contests in Eastern Oregon was revived or the bill that would give the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife the ability to regulate predator management was moved forward.
Eventually, none of the bills moved forward or were revived.
“There were enough votes to pass the district tax, but the leadership wouldn’t pass it out to the Senate floor,” said Ron Hjort, an Oakland area rancher who helped create the tax several years ago. “He was holding our bill hostage to get the other bills moved.”
The district tax will continue to be collected until the end of the year from landowners who pay up to $1 per acre to help finance wildlife services and to have priority in getting help from the specialists.
Hjort hopes the district tax bill will be reintroduced during the Legislature’s short session in February. He’s optimistic the bill will pass both the House and Senate if there are no added conditions.
“I don’t see why anybody would be against a tax that is voluntary and is not out of the general fund, but from those involved themselves,” Hjort said.
Jim Carr, chairman of the Coos County Predator Damage Control District Advisory Committee, said the program was working in Coos County.
“We’re not using public funds,” he said prior to the bill going to the Legislature. “It’s a landowner self-assessment.”
The Coos County assessment total has been about $85,000 a year. Most of that money comes from large timber holdings because bear damage on trees in the Coast Range is a major problem.
In Douglas County, the assessment total has been about $35,000 annually. Most of that money has come from livestock owners with small acreages while timber owners haven’t contributed as much because they haven’t experienced as many bear issues.
Hjort said he believes the Douglas County commissioners are supportive of the wildlife services program, but he understands the commissioners have a lot of demands.
“I can’t tell you whether the county is going to stay with the program,” the cattle and sheep rancher said. “I think they realize the importance of the predator control program in the county and that they would help if they can.”
Besides the county and the district tax, the program also receives funds from ODFW, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Less overall funding may eventually result in just one wildlife services specialist to cover all of Douglas County.