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Fence fundraiser latest attempt to stop Rogue Pack

Good fences make good neighbors, as the saying goes, but for a local cattle rancher, a fence may be the last hope.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to build a tall, strong fence around the property of cattle rancher Ted Birdseye in the latest attempt to keep OR-7 and his Rogue Pack of gray wolves from devouring any more of his cattle — and also to protect the wolves.

Although the Rogue Pack has been known to kill livestock in a number of places throughout Jackson and Klamath counties, OR-7’s crew seems to have a special affinity for Birdseye’s animals.

The Rogue Pack has killed at least 15 animals from local ranches since 2014, according to John Stephenson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. But at least 10 animals — including eight calves and two dogs — belonged to Birdseye.

The fence envisioned by wildlife biologists would cost between $42,000 and $45,000 and would be 3 miles long. Most of the money would come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a state fund set up to compensate ranchers who lose livestock to predator attacks.

Ashland environmental group KS Wild is also helping with the project. KS Wild launched a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $6,000 for the fence. As of Friday, $1,695 had been pledged.

“It’s about bringing the community together to have a conversation about how to protect the wolf population, while being sensitive to the needs of the ranchers,” said KS Wild Executive Director Joseph Vaile.

The Rogue Pack has established a den near Birdseye’s ranch, located near Fort Klamath on the eastern edge of the pack’s known territory. Birdseye and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists have tried numerous approaches to stop the wolves from eating Birdseye’s livelihood, including guard dogs, lights, fluttering flags — and even one of those inflatable tube men that dance outside car dealerships, which drew a spate of media attention from around the state.

The “dancing men,” as Birdseye calls them, did not work for long. The fladry, or red flags hung on a wire with an electric current, was helpful for a while, but the system required a lot of maintenance, Birdseye said.

A sturdy fence, similar to ones used to deal with wolves in Montana and other places, looks to be the next step.

“The pack frequents that ranch so ... we need a more permanent solution at that spot,” Stephenson said.

The collaborators hope to secure the necessary funds by mid July, according to Stephenson.

Once a contractor is hired, it would be a matter of weeks before the fence could be completed — a necessary turnaround time as the heat of summer gives way to fall.

“Late December and January is when we’ve had a lot of problems there in the last two years,” Stephenson said.

Wolves and ranchers have existed in an uneasy standoff ever since wolves returned to the region.

The Rogue Pack is the first pack to become established in Western Oregon in about 70 years. Its patriarch is the famous OR-7, who went viral due to a radio collar that allowed researchers and the public to follow along with his exploits as he wandered from his birthplace in northeastern Oregon to Southern Oregon and Northern California in search of a mate.

OR-7 returned to Southern Oregon seemingly for good in 2014. Since then, wolves from OR-7’s lineage have broken off to start their own packs in Oregon and California.

“Whether you like wolves or not, it was a pretty fascinating story,” Stephenson said.

But that story — which has even inspired children’s books — has not had a happy ending for everyone.

For Birdseye, the cost is not just financial, it’s emotional.

Almost every night, he is either awakened by the sound of his barking guard dogs or he’s up late worrying about the silence. When the pack does come onto his property, Birdseye must get out on an all-terrain vehicle to attempt to scare the wolves away.

“I sure hope the fence makes a difference, because I’m sick and tired of long, sleepless winters,” he said.

Vaile is also hopeful that the fence will allow the Rogue Pack to more peacefully coexist with its ranching neighbors.

“Wolves are back in their rightful place, and we need to do our best to make sure that it is a successful recovery,” Vaile said.

While some ranchers are known to express enmity about wolves being in the area, Birdseye makes it clear that he respects the animals, which are simply following instinct.

“I do believe there may be a place for wolves, but it is not in my backyard,” Birdseye said.

For more information about KS Wild gofundme campaign, see gofundme.com/f/help-up-protect-wolf-or7-and-rogue-pack.

Contact Mail Tribune reporting intern Joe Wolf at jwolf@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4368. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCharlesWolf.

Left: A remote camera captured this photo of OR-7 on May 3 in eastern Jackson County. Right: This blurry image shows a second wolf, determined to be female, in the same area as OR-7.