Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying again to place a GPS collar on at least one wolf from the Rogue pack in Southern Oregon following a recent spate of attacks on livestock in Jackson and Klamath counties.
State wildlife officials confirmed the latest kill of an 11-month-old heifer at a ranch northeast of Medford on Nov. 10. It is the fifth depredation attributed to the Rogue pack over the last three weeks.
Gray wolves in Oregon west of highways 395, 78 and 95 are managed by the federal government. John Stephenson, USFWS wildlife biologist and wolf coordinator, said he is working to collar a wolf from the Rogue pack to keep closer tabs on their location and movements.
“They move around a lot at this time of year,” Stephenson said. “You just have to put (traps) in one area and wait them out.”
The Rogue pack was designated in 2014 when Oregon’s famous wandering wolf, OR-7, settled in the area with a mate and had their first litter of pups. Today, the pack is estimated at seven or eight members.
A collar on OR-7 has not worked since 2015. Agencies successfully collared another female wolf from the pack, OR-54, last fall, though it later dispersed into Northern California.
Veril Nelson, wolf committee co-chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said collaring wolves is a top priority for ranchers.
“We’d like to have a collar on a wolf in every pack in Oregon, so that ranchers can be prepared when they’re in the neighborhood,” Nelson said. “That’s one of the things we’d like to see in the next five-year wolf plan.”
The Rogue pack has certainly been keeping ranchers on their toes.
On Nov. 10, a producer near Butte Falls reported three dead cows in the same 50-acre private pasture. A biologist from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife examined each carcass, determining that one of the heifers was killed by wolves within the past three days.
A second carcass had been mostly eaten, leaving the cause of death as “unknown,” while the third showed no signs of trauma or tooth scrapes usually associated with a predator attack. It was ruled as “other.”
Just three weeks earlier, the Rogue pack was responsible for killing four cows in rapid succession near Fort Klamath in the Wood River Valley at the eastern end of the wolves’ territory. The pack also killed three more calves and a guard dog earlier this year at Mill-Mar Ranch, about 10 miles north of where the most recent attack took place in Jackson County.
Stephenson said it is difficult to know why livestock predations are on the rise, though it could be due in part to the Rogue pack growing in size. OR-7 is also nine years old now, he said, and it is possible that as wolves get older they spend more time around ranches instead of up in the woods where they should be — as was the case with OR-7’s father, OR-4, the alpha male of the Imnaha pack in northeast Oregon.
“There definitely is a relationship with bigger packs tending to be involved with depredations more frequently,” Stephenson said.
Wolves are a federally endangered species in western Oregon, and Stephenson said there are no plans to kill wolves to curb livestock attacks. Instead, he is helping ranchers to put up non-lethal deterrents like fladry fencing and foxlights.
“We’re trying to solve the problem with non-lethal deterrents,” Stephenson said. “They can be very effective.”
Nelson said he feels ranchers are doing everything they can with non-lethal tools to protect livestock from wolves. Having collars in every pack would at least give ranchers a heads-up when they are nearby, he said, though he doubts whether they can get that assurance from ODFW in the next Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
“At the same time, they don’t want us to go to lethal take on these wolves,” Nelson said. “I don’t know what the heck they expect ranchers to do. I guess just suffer the losses.”