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OR: Wolves’ presence in SW Oregon changes everything for ranchers

Experts say OR54 will probably form a pack and wildlife services would be limited.

By CRAIG REED
For the Capital Press

ROSEBURG, Ore. — OR54, an estimated 3-year-old female wolf, was in the Toketee Falls area of the North Umpqua River drainage on April 7. That’s about a 45-minute drive east of livestock pastures in eastern Douglas County.

OR54 is wearing a radio collar, allowing her whereabouts to be tracked by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists.

A couple days after being in the Toketee area, OR54 was farther south in the Cascade Mountains and being tracked in the Prospect, Ore., area of northern Jackson County.

John Stephenson, the lead wolf biologist in Oregon for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said he believes the wolf dispersed from the Rogue pack and is looking for a mate. The Rogue pack was responsible for the mid-January killing of three yearling calves on Ted Birdseye’s ranch in the Prospect area.

The most recent movements of OR54 were explained to about 100 people at an April 12 Douglas County Livestock Association conference.

Livestock producers in southwest Oregon are concerned about possible wolf predation on their animals at a time when coyotes and cougars are already taking a toll. USDA wildlife specialists are also concerned because once a wolf pair or pack establishes itself in an area, the trappers are more regulated in how they go about setting and checking traps and using other measures intended to discourage coyotes and cougars.

“If wolves come into a livestock area, wildlife services staff and livestock owners will be notified,” said Paul Wolf, the USDA’s Southwest District supervisor for wildlife services. “Once wolves are there, we have to have 24-hour trap checks.”

Breakaway snares that will hold a coyote but that a larger wolf can free itself from must also be used. The use of M-44s, sodium cyanide capsules, will also be restricted.

In addition to OR54, there have also been unofficial sightings of wolves in the last year in the Mount Scott area that overlooks Glide, Ore., and in the Dixonville area several miles to the southwest. Livestock pastures are within a couple miles of where those wolves were reportedly seen.

“I think these livestock owners have a right to be concerned because another predator is on the landscape,” Wolf said. “When there’s one or two animals, you don’t need to be too alarmed about it, but when they form a pack, it creates another situation that could potentially be a threat to livestock.

“There’s nothing established now as far as I’m aware, but OR54 is moving, probably looking to pair up and eventually forming a pack,” he added.

Stephenson said he also understands the concerns of livestock owners. He encourages them to clean up any bone piles on their property, to have as much human presence on the property as possible and to have guard dogs with their livestock if possible.

“There’s no doubt wolves will colonize Douglas County, but I do expect that to be in the far eastern part of the county,” Stephenson said. “In the valleys around Roseburg, I think the risk of wolves there is pretty low.”

Wolf and Stephenson explained that it is important when a possible sighting of a wolf is made that it is reported immediately to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. If possible, the animal or its tracks should be photographed and reported.

The same applies when dead livestock is found. In addition to the confirmed wolf kills near Prospect in January, the Rogue pack killed some calves in 2016 in the Wood River Valley north of Klamath Lake in Klamath County.

Birdseye, the Prospect rancher who lost the calves to wolves, said since a hot wire with red flagging was installed for 2.5 miles around his pastures, he has lost no more livestock. He also now has two English mastiff dogs roaming his pastures.

He has, however, heard wolves howl out in the forest at night. In mid-March, he awoke to a wolf’s howl at about 3:30 in the morning and then heard a yelp.

“Evidently that wolf hit the hot wire,” Birdseye surmised.

The rancher said he will be concerned about the safety of his cattle when he turns them out onto a U.S. Forest Service allotment in northern Jackson County in early June. He hopes any wolves in that area will follow migrating deer and elk to higher elevations and leave his livestock alone.

Veril Nelson, a cattle rancher east of Sutherlin, Ore., and the co-chair of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s wolf committee for Western Oregon, said the group’s main focus for his half of the state is to pressure U.S. Fish and Wildlife to delist the wolves.

“As long as wolves are listed, ranchers don’t have any way of protecting their livestock other than using non-lethal means,” he said. “The only way you can shoot at one is if it is attacking you. With the non-lethal controls, they work for a little while, but then if the wolves are prone to livestock, they’ll attack them again.”

Nelson said it is important to document any wolf activity and to get that information to the state and federal agencies. He added that collaring more wolves will also help in keeping track of them and in turn will give livestock owners some warning as to the animals’ location.

Birdseye expects there’ll be more wolf-livestock conflicts in southwestern Oregon in the future.

“That’s the reality of it,” he said. “Can livestock producers absorb those losses? Should we have to absorb those losses?

“We need to continue to educate ourselves on wolves and at the same time try to educate the people who are on the other side of the fence,” he added. “We’ve got a federally endangered predator on the landscape, and whose responsibility is it to keep the wolves where they need to be? Is it my responsibility to put up fencing around my place or is it the feds’? I don’t know many hours of sleep I’ve lost being concerned about wolves.”

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