A trio of cattle deaths in the Fort Klamath area earlier this week are being blamed on OR-7’s Rogue Wolf Pack.
The carcasses of three yearling heifers were found — one each on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings — by Butch Wampler, who oversees cattle grazing on Wood River Valley ranch lands owned by Bill Nicholson and leased to DeTar Livestock of Dixon, Calif. The remains have been sent for examination before an official determination is made.
Following the discovery of the first heifer Monday morning, Nicholson said the carcass was too badly eaten to determine how it died. A second dead heifer was found Tuesday morning. Both had been buried but were unearthed following the discovery of a third heifer Wednesday that, according to Nicholson, showed traits consistent with a wolf kill. After the dead heifer that was discovered Tuesday was unburied and skinned, it was determined it also had been eaten by wolves, pending the autopsy.
After finding the third dead heifer, Nicholson contacted Tom Collum, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Klamath Falls district biologist. Video cameras showed six gray wolves from the Rogue Pack, including OR-7, who is collared but no longer transmitting signals, in the Fort Klamath area.
OR-7 gained international fame after he left the Imnaha Pack in far northeast Oregon in 2011 and struck out on his own in search of a mate and territory for his own pack. He traveled south and west until he crossed the Cascade crest in late October, becoming the first wolf in western Oregon since 1937. On Nov. 13, 2011, he crossed into Jackson County for the first time from Klamath County, then ventured to Northern California, where he was the Golden State’s first known wolf since 1924. He then returned to Jackson County, having logged about 1,000 miles in his journey.
OR-7 eventually found his mate, and in 2014, he fathered the first wolf pack in southwestern Oregon in more than six decades. The pack, which has added more litters since, usually frequents the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in eastern Jackson County, though it moves around.
Collum spent Wednesday night camped in a field near the grazing cattle. Other biologists are scheduled to take turns in the field the next several night in efforts to deter the wolf pack. In 2016, when four grazing cattle were attacked and eaten alive by wolves, Collum and others took turns staying overnight using non-lethal methods — massive bonfires, honking horns, beaming strobe lights and firing cracker shells, which travel about 100 yards before exploding — as part of an effort to deter wolf predation.
“We didn’t know the Rogue Pack was back in this area,” Collum said Wednesday, noting they had been seen on the Jackson County side of the Cascades. Last month it was determined a large dog guarding cattle near Prospect had been killed by a wolf. The last confirmed cattle attack by the Rogue Pack was in January, when two calves were killed two days apart near Butte Falls.
Emphasizing that no final determination has been made on the deaths of the three Fort Klamath area heifers, Collum described the kills discovered Tuesday and Wednesday as “textbook.” The carcass of the heifer discovered Monday may be too destroyed to make a determination. He said tracking is difficult because none of Rogue Pack wolves have operating monitors.
Each summer upwards of 35,000 cattle graze on Wood River Valley pastures, about 25 miles north of Klamath Falls. Most have been trucked to pastures in the Redding-Cottonwood area of northern California. The relatively small numbers of remaining cattle will be shipped out within the coming month. Nicholson noted all three of the dead cattle are heifers, year-old cows weighing 550 to 650 pounds that have not produced calves. On neighboring fields with mother cows and calves, he said there have not been any known wolf attacks.
“I think maybe the cows protect the calves,” Nicholson speculated.
Noting the same trend, Collum said, “They’ve not protected the same way (as calves with cows). The wolves seem to know that.”