About a year ago, Douglas County property owners decided to charge themselves a fee in order to protect their livestock and trees from cougars, coyotes, bears and other predators.
They formed the voluntary Douglas County Predator Damage Control District, which ranchers and timber growers can join to pay a fee based on how many acres of land they have. Ron Hjort and Dan Dawson, who are cattle and sheep ranchers, had the idea and inspired the Oregon Legislature to pass a law allowing counties to create predator control districts.
According to them, the district has been a success in its first year.
“It is working, and the first year from a revenue standpoint has been successful,” Hjort said. “Our goal is to get more people into the district to help with the financing.”
So far, 286 property owners with a total of 110,253 acres have joined the district to raise more than $32,000 for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, a program that allows three specialists in the county to respond, assess and handle incidents involving predators.
According to Hjort, the specialists protect $80 million to $90 million worth of livestock in the county.
“They respond to the landowners’ request and ascertain what the problem is and use their tools and a variety of things they have available to them to mitigate the problem,” Hjort said.
He said if a cougar takes down some of his sheep, the wildlife specialists come see the evidence and set up traps or snares to catch the cougar. Sometimes, the specialists may bring their hound dogs to chase and catch the big cat, which is usually put down if it has been causing a problem for domestic animals.
On his own land north of Oakland, Hjort said he has lost five lambs to a bobcat in the last few weeks, and the wildlife specialists came out to help. He said once a predator gets used to feeding on a herd, it often keeps coming back.
“Without (Wildlife Services), we could be out of business,” Hjort said.
According to Dawson, predators have caused about $70,000 worth of livestock damage in less than a year since the district was formed.
“If we didn’t have a program, that could be three to five times that amount because there would be no one here to stop the problem,” Dawson said.
Dawson said with its declining budget, Douglas County would not be able to fund the wildlife specialists’ work without the predator control district. The budget for the three wildlife specialists is $230,000.
Douglas County contributes about $120,000, USDA Wildlife Services contributes $13,000 per trapper, Oregon Department of Agriculture provides $6,760 per trapper, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife provides $6,340 per trapper and furbearer fees cover $1,354 per trapper.
“We all recognize the potential for county revenue to decline, so our goal is to generate revenue to keep this program in the county,” Hjort said.
Landowners in the district pay an average of 41 cents per acre, depending on what type of resource they’re raising and how many acres they manage.
Dawson said the wildlife specialists also help with predator damage to timber. He said individual landowners may not be able to protect their resources alone, but that’s why it’s important for them to come together in the district.
Dawson said in the future, landowners in the district plan to form a committee to teach other ranchers about non-lethal ways to deal with wolves, including how to preserve killed livestock so Wildlife Services can verify the kills and compensate the landowners.
According to Tod Lum, Umpqua District wildlife biologist, a female wolf labeled OR-54 moved through the district near Lemolo in early April, but has already moved down to Northern California. He said she doesn’t pose a threat for livestock at this point, and tends to move around Northern California and the Klamath Basin.