by Mark Freeman of the Mail Tribune
The Rogue Pack of gray wolves and its well-documented taste for beef has become so brazen in recent weeks that a federal wildlife biologist believes killing one or more of the pack is needed to quell livestock attacks, but that’s “not an option.”
The Rogue Pack, whose patriarch OR-7 is dead and his former mate is now denning with another male in Klamath County, two more separate cattle attacks this past weekend, adding to its record number of attacks by any Oregon pack since wolves returned here 20 years ago, records show.
Similar numbers previously led authorities to kill one or more pack animals under a state plan in Northeast Oregon. But the Rogue Pack and other wolves in Western Oregon are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, with current federal legal opinions saying they are off limits as government targets.
“Lethal control should be happening in this case, but our hands are tied,” said John Stephenson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist working on the Rogue Pack. “They’re just targeting livestock full-time now. But our solicitors tell us that’s not an option we have.”
Instead, biologists will continue to attempt to trap a pack wolf to fit it with a GPS collar that could help haze animals away from livestock, Stephenson said.
Ranching interests such as the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association are well aware of the service’s current reading of ESA rules, but instead hope a pending proposal to delist wolves federally will allow management of Western Oregon wolves to revert to a state plan that could put the pack in state cross-hairs.
“That’s the only bullet,” said Rodger Huffman, a rancher and co-chair of the association’s wolf committee.
Wolf advocates have long abhorred killing wolves to curb predation, and at least one study has shown that it is more likely to just shift predation to other ranches.
Amaroq Weiss, West Coast Wolf Advocate at the Center of Biological Diversity, said she believes getting a pack member collared could go a long way in reducing these conflicts.
The transmitters could set off radio-activating guard boxes — known as RAG boxes — that can trigger loud sounds and bright lights to scare wolves out of pastures without the need of human presence.
Sounds, lights and other scare tactics worked for a few months on rancher Ted Birdseye’s property, which was regularly visited by the Rogue Pack, and a fence built around his ranch in 2019 has kept the pack away from his cattle.
“If you find something that works, why wouldn’t you emulate that elsewhere?” Weiss said.
Despite intense trapping efforts, state and federal biologists have not had a GPS collar on a Rogue Pack wolf since OR-54 dispersed from the pack in 2018, records show.
Based on confirmed depredation cases assembled by ODFW, the Rogue Pack is now responsible for 34 confirmed incidents since 2016. The most recent came in separate weekend kills of yearly steers on separate ranches in the Fort Klamath area, making it nine animals attacked in seven instances in less than two months.
That running tally is three more than the Imnaha Pack’s 31 incidents between 2011 and 2016 in Northeast Oregon, ODFW data show.
In 2016, aerial gunners under state authorization killed the last remaining four members of the Imnaha Pack, including the patriarch, an aging OR-4, which was OR-7’s father.
OR-7 was a member of the Imnaha Pack when it was collared in 2011, before it left the pack for its storied search of a mate across Oregon and Northern California, eventually forming the Rogue Pack.
Collared wolves in Oregon are named for their collaring sequence.
Stephenson said the Rogue Pack’s penchant for livestock kills mirrors that of the Imnaha Pack before its demise.
The Rogue Pack’s matriarch is old and apparently turning to livestock to stay alive instead of natural prey like deer and elk, Stephenson said.
“I think they’re the worst livestock depredation problem we’ve had,” Stephenson said of the Rogue Pack.
OR-7 did not show up in wolf surveys last fall and is considered dead. No carcass attributed to him, however, has been found.
Once extirpated throughout the West, gray wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and dispersed out of the park’s borders. The first handful of wolves wandered into Oregon from Idaho two decades ago and set up shop in Northeast Oregon before fanning out across the state.