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By CRAIG REED
The Indigo Pack of wolves is continuing to roam the higher elevations of the Cascade Mountains in eastern Douglas County.
There is a confirmed count of four adults in the pack and as of last June, a confirmed count of five pups. But how many of those pups have survived is unknown. There’s a high mortality rate for wolf pups in their first year when disease, lack of food or attacks by cougars or bears can end their lives.
“So far the Indigo Pack is staying up high,” said Nick Leonetti, an assistant district wildlife biologist in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Roseburg office. “There were no visual reports from hunters (during the recent deer and elk hunting seasons), but there were reports of howling and tracks. The home range for those wolves is large, but so far they haven’t depleted the elk and deer numbers enough that they’re moving on.”
Wildlife officials anticipate, however, that a wolf or two from either the Indigo Pack or the Rogue Pack will eventually disperse and take up residence in other parts of Douglas County. If and when that happens, there is concern the wolves will prey on domestic livestock in the Cascades’ foothills east of Sutherlin, Glide, Myrtle Creek and Canyonville.
The recent killing of livestock by wolves in Jackson and Klamath counties is evidence of those wolf-livestock conflicts. ODFW confirmed four steers as wolf kills by the Rogue Pack in late October in the Butte Falls area of Jackson County. At about the same time in the Bly area of Klamath County, five calves were confirmed as kills by a different pack of wolves. Two more calves in that area in early November were listed as probable wolf kills. One of the calves was not found dead, but was injured so badly, it had to be euthanized.
Depending on weight and sex, those dead animals are valued between $1,500 and $2,500 each.
Those types of fatal conflicts have Douglas County officials and livestock owners with animals at lower elevations in the mountains concerned. To date, there has been no known livestock predation by wolves in the county.
“I think it’s a matter of time before some people in Douglas County have to deal with wolves,” said Paul Wolf, the Southwest Oregon district supervisor for Wildlife Services. “Hopefully, they’ll never have to, but I think it is important that they be vigilant as far as being prepared for wolves.”
Veril Nelson, a cattle rancher east of Sutherlin, agreed that there have been no conflicts with wolves in the county, but he suspects there are wolves in the county that are unknown to ODFW. He said wolves were spotted on Mount Scott, a mountain that overlooks the Glide community, just a couple years ago.
“I expect in the next year or so there’ll be wolves down here,” he said of the foothills on the west side of the Cascades. “A lot of our wildlife population has moved down in the valleys and wolves are going to follow their food supply and then they’ll get in trouble with livestock.
“One of the things people need to remember is that young wolves disperse from packs to find their own territory,” added Nelson who is the Western Oregon chairperson on the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s wolf advisory committee.
Dan Dawson, a rancher in the Glide area, said he hasn’t seen a wolf yet, but has heard reports of sightings.
“I would say 100 percent they’ll be here. I just don’t know when,” he said. “I figure in this county we’ll have to deal with wolves in the near future.
“I’m worrying every day anyway,” he added. “If not the wolves, it’s coyotes, it’s cougars, it’s bears, it’s the drought.”
Leonetti said tracking and studying the movements of wolves in Northeast Oregon, Idaho and other states indicates they can easily travel 20 miles in a day or so in search of new territory and a food source.
“They’ll find an attractive landscape and utilize it,” he said. “There’s no clear answer on them coming here, but I’d be concerned about wolves in Douglas County. I’d be proactive and take preventive measures against wolves on ranches.”
The non-lethal methods to try and discourage wolves from preying on livestock include noise, alarm and scare devices, fence fladry (flagging), disposing of bone piles, bright lights, guard dogs and human presence.
Nelson emphasized it is important for ranchers to report conflicts and livestock loss due to wolves. He said in order to receive compensation from the state for wolf kills, ranchers must have non-lethal methods in place. He added if non-lethal methods are used, but there are still wolf kills, lethal removal of wolves can’t be approved until there are a certain number of confirmed kills.
It is a complex rule that includes the following condition: “Confirms a total of at least 4 qualifying incidents of depredation of livestock within the previous 6 months by the same wolf or wolves.”
“It’s a complicated situation,” Nelson said. “The wolf issue is highly political. There’s a lot of pressure by environmentalists and wolf advocates not to kill wolves. There’s always a threat of a lawsuit. ODFW is reluctant to remove wolves. That’s a situation that doesn’t favor ranchers.”
Nelson said there are wolves that don’t prey on livestock and they should be left alone. But he said wolves that prey on livestock pass that trait to their pups and those are the wolves and packs that need to be removed. He added that a study has shown that partial removal — one or two wolves from a pack — only deters the other pack members for a week or two and then they’re back pursuing and killing livestock.
There is concern wolves that disperse from the Rogue Pack and travel into Douglas County will prey on livestock because that pack has had multiple past conflicts with livestock.
Wildlife Services has two conflict prevention specialists in Southwest Oregon who can advise and help with non-lethal preventive measures.
“Wolves will be wolves. They’re going to continue to expand,” said Wolf. “When they show up, we need folks to be ready to manage the threat.”
“I get the fear, the angst people have with this species,” Leonetti said. “I’m sure we’re going to find another wolf pack in Douglas County in the next year or two.”