Crook takes up predator control plan

County may add additional person to patrol and trap animals part time

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: March 08. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – At a time of year when Crook County’s farms are full of calves and lambs, the County Court is considering contributing more money to a federal program that deals with the animals that often prey on livestock.

Mike Slater, a representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said at Wednesday’s Crook County Court meeting that the agency currently has one employee working on predator control in Crook, Jefferson and Wasco counties.

“Obviously, that’s a pretty big area to cover for one person,” Slater said. “What I’ve been hearing from some landowners is, ‘Boy, it sure would be nice to be able to have a ground program again,’ where we could put a little more control on these coyotes and some of these other critters, beavers, and on down the list even potentially down on to the skunks in town.”

Slater said that the current employee works about half-time in Crook County and mostly deals with mountain lions. He added that another employee based in Des-chutes County could begin working a few days a week in Crook County, costing the county roughly an additional $23,000 a year for the predator control program.

“Even that is not a real overloaded program, obviously, even that can get busy and even that ground person would have to have some prioritization in her schedule,” he said.

The additional staffer would primarily work on the ground trapping predators like coyotes.

The county currently pays about $22,000 a year for the half-time predator control position, and the federal and state governments also contribute funds.

At the meeting, Crook County Judge Scott Cooper expressed reservations because the amount of federal and state money has steadily decreased since the program started in the 1990s and the county might have to pay more in the future for the new position.

“This is one that gets more expensive the longer you keep it around,” Cooper said. “It is, however, a critical issue in what we do.”

While the three county commissioners did not take any action, they agreed that they should treat the issue as a “priority” and try to find funding for it as the county continues to work on its budget for the coming fiscal year. Cooper said the budget should be finished by April 1.

Commissioner Mike McCabe, a farmer in Prineville, said he thinks that if the county does add the additional staff the focus should be on controlling coyotes.

“Until skunks start killing calves and lambs and elk calves and fawns, they’re not really high on my priority list,” McCabe said. “It’s a problem and it needs to be dealt with as we go, but I don’t think it should be a priority.”

Bill Sanowski, one of several Crook County ranchers in attendance at the meeting, said coyotes killed 21 calves on his property last year.

“We definitely have a problem out there, and I hope that we can pass this thing and get some more traps or whatever,” he said.

But Cooper added that he thinks the problems with smaller animals are also significant.

“I’ve got 10,000 residents here in the city who think we ought to be doing a lot more with skunks than we are, and they aren’t hesitant to call and tell me,” he said. “Their other issue is turkey vultures, which no one seems to have found a good solution for what to do with, so I regularly field calls.”

Slater said that one of the benefits of the USDA program is that its employees can cross onto federally owned lands, which private landowners cannot.

Slater said after the meeting that the USDA wildlife services agency uses a variety of methods, both lethal and nonlethal, in controlling animals ranging from raccoons and starlings to mountain lions and coyotes.

Every year there are a number of mountain lion sightings in Bend, Redmond and Prineville. And on Feb. 27, there were two reported sightings of cougars in east Bend.

Legally, Slater said, landowners can kill the animals if they have damaged livestock, but if they have just seen the animals and are worried about safety, there is a process to go through with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to deal with the problem. Property owners can also kill coyotes at any time because they are classified as predators that are unprotected, he said.

“One of the things that’s happened, especially in Central Oregon, is more and more wildlife problems around people,” he said. “What happens is basically the mountain lions are coming down from the upper country, we’re moving out toward the upper country, and it’s kind of increasing that area in which people and mountain lions have to live together.”

But he added that the purpose of the program is not to “annihilate wildlife.”

“This is a professional response and it’s not a wildlife extermination effort,” he said.

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