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Rogue Pack is bloody back

BUTTE FALLS — Rancher Ted Birdseye’s tempestuous relationship with gray wolf OR-7 and his Rogue Pack has been going on since before the arrival of two four-legged alarms to his cattle ranch deep in the recesses of the Cascades east of Butte Falls.

Birdseye lost three calves in four days to the Rogue Pack in January. That was before he was given two Tibetan mastiffs bred as “property-attentive” dogs to patrol the boundaries of Birdseye’s 267-acre ranch and sound their menacing alarm at the mere whiff of a wolf.

“Any time those wolves are close or howl, they just go ballistic,” Birdseye said.

They went ballistic again early Monday morning, but this time it was the wolves that had had enough.

At least one of the Rogue Pack attacked one of the dogs, leaving the animal to limp home with more than 25 canine puncture bites that hours later killed it.

It was Jackson County’s fourth fatal livestock or pet attack by the Rogue Pack this year, all on Birdseye’s ranch, which he said is six miles from the pack’s den.

“For some reason, they’ve decided that this is home,” Birdseye said. “Here we go again. Wolf season.”

OR-7 and his offspring have taken a shine to the woods around Birdseye’s ranch ever since late 2011, when the famed roamer ventured over the Cascade Crest to become the first wolf confirmed in Western Oregon since 1937.

The alpha wolf, now 9 years old, likely finds solace in the lack of people, good prey base and good habitat to raise 16 pups in that area over the years, biologists say.

“He roamed here and there but always settled back in that area,” said Sam Dodenhoff, an ODFW biologist working on wolf issues in Jackson County. “He kind of carved out a niche for himself there and hasn’t deviated.”

GPS data from OR-7’s collar — and later from a collar on OR-54, a female offspring of OR-7 — showed the pack normally reaches the Birdseye ranch area in late December or January, Dodenhoff said.

OR-54’s GPS collar helped pin last year’s attacks on the Rogue Pack, but she has since dispersed to California.

This year, the pack is a little early, but its recent attack seems to mesh with other livestock predation in Oregon.

ODFW statistics show that spring and fall are the most common times for wolf depredation on cattle and sheep here.

Livestock are easier to protect on winter feeding grounds and calving pastures because they are generally smaller with more human presence, according to the agency. In May through November, cattle are often on larger pastures or on open-range federal grazing allotments.

The ODFW statistics show a dip in depredation during June and July, likely because of the presence of deer fawns and elk calves.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists returned Thursday to the scene of Monday’s attack and did what they did the last time Rogue Pack wolves came to Birdseye’s ranch for food. They installed electric fences fitted with bright flags, motion-triggered lights and noise makers in the field where the attack occurred.

The flags, called fladry, flap in the breeze over the top of a pasture’s fence line and are used to deter wolves from crossing the fence line.

Similar nonlethal deterrents were installed in January, and Birdseye believes that helped push the pack away.

“I hope it works,” Birdseye said. “I have a bunch of calves in the field right now.

“It’s very frustrating,” he added.

The pack is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Along with the Birdseye ranch attacks, four fatal livestock attacks in Klamath County in 2016 were also pinned on the Rogue Park.

Birdseye said a Rogue River-area couple who lost a court battle over their perpetually barking mastiffs last year gave him the two dogs after hearing of his January livestock losses.

The dogs patrol the perimeter, and the 75-pound canines previously had not tangled with the wolves in what inevitably is a one-sided brawl, Birdseye said.

“When those wolves see a dog, they’re like, ‘You’re gonna die,’” Birdseye said. “There’s no tail-sniffing. No growling.”

Losing animals is one thing, Birdseye said, but that’s not all the Rogue Pack’s presence extracts from his property.

When the dogs bark, it’s “here we go again,” and Birdseye pulls on his boots, grabs his gun and heads into the field on his four-wheeler to investigate. Those nights end up sleepless for him and his wife, rattled by stress.

“It’s so dang frustrating,” Birdseye said.

Since the killing was verified by biologists from ODFW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Birdseye will be paid $1,000 as compensation for his loss from the Jackson County Wolf Advisory Committee, which earlier compensated him for January’s killings.

“I’m on the Jackson County Wolf Compensation Committee,” Birdseye said. “It’s starting to become a conflict of interest.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwriterFreeman.

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