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The recent killings of three calves by wolves in Jackson County, Ore., probably by members of the Rogue Pack, hit close to home for Mark Coats, who advocates a predator awareness program he believes can reduce such incidents by wolves, coyotes and other carnivores.
Coats, who has cattle operations in Siskiyou County in far Northern California and Klamath and Jackson counties in Oregon, said the attacks happened on a neighbor’s land.
“My cows turned out fine,” he said. “I’m confident in my cows’ ability to stand off predators,” explaining he routinely takes steps to retrain his herds.
Coats doesn’t necessarily like it, but he accepts the fact that wolves have become a fixture in Oregon and parts of Northern California.
“The wolf is a carnivore. Killing is what he does. By the laws of the ESA we can’t do a lot,” said Coats, referring to protections to wolves mandated under the federal Endangered Species Act. “We need to learn how to stay in business in his presence.”
Over the past six years Coats has been studying and implementing new ways of preventing cattle deaths by predators, including wolves, coyotes and mountain lions. He has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on creating a predator awareness program he believes can successfully reduce or eliminate predation deaths.
“What they need is the individualized chase,” where a wolf or wolves isolate a cow or calf from the herd, then chase, immobilize and eat the animal, which is often still alive. “We’re trying to interrupt that. That is the key.”
The key, he believes, is training cattle to gather in herds when threatened by wolves or other potential killers.
Coats began researching wolf and cattle behavior six years ago when OR-7, then a lone male gray wolf that for several years was electronically tracked after it left the Imnaha Pack in northeast Oregon in 2007, passed through his lands near the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge along the Oregon-California state line. During his wanderings in Southern Oregon and Northern California, OR-7 eventually found a breeding female. The pack has grown and includes OR-7’s grandchildren.
“My phone was ringing off the hook because I was the cattlemen’s president,” remembers Coats, who served as the Siskiyou County Cattlemen’s Association president for three years, of what spurred his interest. “I started doing a lot of research on what cattlemen can do.”
What cattlemen and others can do is limited. Wolves east of Highway 395, which slices through Washington, Oregon and California, are not protected by the ESA but wolves west of the highway are protected, which restricts ways cattle ranchers and others can deal with potential depredation threats. Coats said various studies, including research done in Yellowstone National Park, show threats can be reduced or eliminated if cattle are taught to group together and not to flee or run.
“The fear of the wolf is still there. There are no sound practices to defer him,” Coats said of concerns by livestock owners who are legally prevented from killing wolves. “We cannot manage them with any effective measure.”
Instead of hunting or trapping wolves, he believes the predator awareness program is a viable alternative. “When wolves confront livestock, they (livestock) get fearful for their lives. Once they reach the group, the pressure is relieved. A defensive standing posture will defer wolves. What we’re encouraging is a defensive posture of moving to the herd.”
He said studies indicate wolves do not attack groups of livestock, choosing instead to chase individual animals. According to Coats, previous studies showed that wolves will leave if livestock remain still and in groups. While he is focused on cattle, he said the group-and-stand theory applies to other livestock. “We always saw losses to coyotes, but since we’ve worked with this program we haven’t had any losses to mammals.”
“Training can last several months or, if done intensely, seven to 10 days,” he said. “And it continually needs to be tuned up. The cow must understand it is its decision to return to the herd. ... A key is training them to stand and not run or flee.”
Studies indicate cattle can check attacks by gathering in groups as few as three, although he prefers groups of 10 to 12. In more open areas, such as the Wood River Valley south of Crater Lake National Park, he promotes having groups of 40 or 50.
He hopes to make his findings more available through a series of workshops.
“We’re encouraging something that’s been un-encouraged for years,” Coats said of training cattle to respond to threats by forming groups. “Keep it tight, keep them in a herd, in a defensive posture. They’re in that group for a reason.”
For detailed information on Mark Coats predator awareness program, including videos on how to train cattle, visit his website at www.rancherpredatorawareness.com.