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Controlling critters will be harder if budgets
- Photo courtesy of Wildlife Services
The coyote stalking lambs in a sheep pasture, the cougar snatching pets out of a
rural backyard and the bear scrounging in the garbage are on the verge of getting
a little more time to escape from their conflicts with humans.
Oregon’s wildlife specialists, or trappers, as they’re more commonly known, could be arriving on the scene later
than they would hope. That’s because there may be fewer of them, so the workload for the remaining specialists
will increase. The trappers will also be spread over more acres and miles, and their response time will be
lengthened. Or calls could go completely unanswered, said Dave Williams, the state director for the U.S.
Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services program.
The reason is that there’ll soon be less money for a program that provides responses to animal conflicts and
activities. The program is cooperatively funded by county, state and federal funds, and budget proposals at
those levels include elimination or cuts to the program for the year beginning July 1.
There are now 27 wildlife specialists in 26 Oregon counties. The annual cost for each trapper is $70,000 to
$75,000, depending on their tenure. That dollar figure includes their pay and benefits, and the vehicle,
equipment and supplies needed to pursue wildlife.
Traditionally, most of a trapper’s time was spent protecting agricultural interests and property in the state. But
in more recent years as more rural homes and small properties have been built and developed, the specialists
have spent much more time involved in human safety issues.
Michael Burrell, the district supervisor for USDA Wildlife Services for southwestern and south central Oregon
counties, said the percentage in Douglas County is now 60 percent protecting agriculture and 40 percent
protecting public safety and property.
“These problems aren’t going to go away, and people will be looking to us for help,” said Williams. “Our job is to
stop conflicts with wildlife, but we won’t be in a position to help as much.”
“It’s always been a problem, it’s never been easy to resolve, and it’s just going to be more challenging,” said
Burrell of wildlife conflicts.
The proposed budget cuts for Oregon include the elimination of funds ($443,000 for the past biennium) from the
Oregon Department of Agriculture and a 33 percent cut in Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife funds from
$310,000 down to $210,000. For Douglas County, a 10 percent cut in county funds from $163,500 down to
$147,150 has been proposed. It’s still not known how much federal money the wildlife services program will
“Our state budget situation is a dire one right now,” said Williams. “That’s compounded with many counties
having their own budget crises. We’re right in the middle of working with counties, but we’re on shaky ground
with a number of them.”
All state and county monies go to fund the 27 wildlife specialists, 3.5 of those positions being in Douglas County.
Joel Dowdy, who has worked in the wildlife program for 10 years, covers issues in South County. Mark Dowdy,
with eight years experience, works in the central part of the county and Jim Godfrey, six years, covers North
County. John Brooks, with 11 years experience, splits his time between north Douglas County and Lane County.
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“Funding cuts will reduce our services,” said Burrell, a federal employee whose district office is in Roseburg.
“We’re not sure yet if we’re going to lose a half or a full person, or if there’ll be a couple weeks furlough. We’re
not sure yet.
“As a program, we’re still going to respond and deal with animal control, but you may see slower response times
and timing is of the essence,” he added. “That can make the difference in determining the animal involved and
then capturing a targeted animal.”
“We’ll have to work more closely together on this,” said Doug Robertson, a Douglas County commissioner. “I
think people recognize the necessity of reducing some of these services. They’ll have to take a more active role
and take care of some of the problems themselves.”
Burrell explained that agricultural interests that are protected in southwestern Oregon are timber, fruit tree
orchards, tree seedlings, sheep, goats, cattle, ducks, chickens, rabbits, livestock feed, beehives, game birds and
even bison. A cougar killed several bison in the Smith River area a few weeks ago.
Richard Holcomb, who with his brother Roger runs 700 mother cows and 500 ewes in the Kellogg area west of
Sutherlin, said their business loses 25 to 50 lambs and about three calves a year to predators.
“I think the sheep business is in real jeopardy if we don’t have the wildlife service,” Richard Holcomb said.
“Those guys are a valuable tool for us to stay in business. If we don’t have somebody with that type of expertise
and skills to fall back on, it’s psychologically depressing for us to see the losses and not have any recourse. At
least we know if they’re out there working for us, there’s hope. If there is nobody to work for us when we really
need them, I think we’ll see a lot more people going out of the livestock business.”
The specialists also protect public safety and property, including structures, hobby animals such as pets and
horses, and lawns and landscaping in both rural and urban settings. Wildlife services is considered the “go-to
program” by ODFW and law enforcement when calls come in about possible cougar and bear sightings.
“Bear and cougar calls consume a great deal of time, as their populations are very stable and human
development increases ...” said Burrell. “It is extremely challenging to identify which species is causing damage,
locate where the animal has been coming from and where it is going, and to capture that animal while dealing
with obstacles such as amount of time elapsed before receiving a phone call, property boundaries, free roaming
pets, curious neighbors and often emotional people who have recently lost something of importance to a
predator. Although the job is challenging, it is very rewarding when everything goes as planned.”
Other public safety issues include beavers and the damage they can cause. A beaver falling large trees can
endanger nearby structures or plug roadside culverts with woody debris, in turn flooding roadsides and eroding
The specialists also monitor wildlife health and diseases. They have the training to monitor populations for
symptoms of diseases such as rabies and distemper.
Tod Lum, wildlife biologist in the Roseburg office of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, advises people
to be more preventive on their own property. Don’t feed the wildlife, such as deer and turkey, because the
cougar who preys on those two will also be lured into the neighborhood. In the last year, cougar sightings have
been confirmed on Rocky Ridge on the east side of Roseburg and on Morgan Ridge between Roseburg and Garden
“You like seeing deer in your yard, but not the animal with the long tail,” Lum said.
The biologist said that in recent years, many large rural properties have been purchased by people from out of
the area who aren’t going to farm or ranch and are unaware of the wildlife. But it’s not long before they’re
dealing with large predators and are calling for help, he said.
Officials are also reminding the public to take an extra minute or two and evaluate the sighting of an animal
before calling it in as a predator. A lot of time is spent by the trappers responding to what turn out to be
incorrect sightings — it was a yellow Labrador or deer that ran across the road or yard and not a cougar.
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To deal with critters such as skunks, raccoons, nutria, and the like, the wildlife program will occasionally loan
out traps. There are also private wildlife control operators who can help with those animals, but there is a cost.
Burrell said the purpose of the program is not to exterminate a wildlife population, but instead to target certain
individual animals that are causing the damage. He added that most targeted animals that are caught are
euthanized. Bears are salvaged for human consumption with the meat going to local food banks or kitchens that
provide for the needy.
With the recent news that counties are cutting some of their animal control officers who deal a lot with
domestic animals, Burrell and Williams know their wildlife program is going to get more calls. They advise the
public that the program doesn’t have enough manpower to help in those cases.
“We may get more calls, but we’re not in any position to respond to those,” Williams said. “Our job is to stop
conflict with wildlife, and we’ll be forced to prioritize those calls.”
“I’m a firm believer in those guys,” said Richard Holcomb. “They have their hearts in it. They work for the
agricultural community and the public. I don’t know who’s going to take care of problems around urban areas —
housing developments and schools — if they don’t. Who’s going to do that job? We can’t ignore it.”
Robertson said he believes more discussion is needed at the state level.
“I think the state will revisit this predator control issue,” he said. “To monitor and deal with wildlife
overpopulation and disease, it simply has to be addressed. Obviously there’ll be some scaling back, but I think
they’re going to have to do something.”
Williams said he’s remaining optimistic, but it’s frustrating to think about the future of wildlife services and how
many field positions will be eliminated if the proposed cuts are eventually approved.
“The stakeholders that use this program are hopefully expressing and educating the legislators about the need
and value of the program,” said Williams. “Ultimately it’s up to the Legislature to see the value in these
• You can reach Features editor Craig Reed at 957-4210 or by e-mail at email@example.com.