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Getting out ahead of wolves

CENTRAL POINT — After a while, the gyrating “Air Dancer” inflatable tubes used to hawk used cars at downtown lots stopped curbing livestock kills at Ted Birdseye’s rural ranch, which has become a frequent dining location for gray wolf OR-7’s Rogue Pack.

For two months the yellow and green dancing tubes kept the pack at bay — until March 23, when two of the pack’s wolves nonchalantly walked within 40 yards of the flailing tubes after killing a 400-pound calf on Birdseye’s 276-acre ranch near Boundary Butte.

“The wolves were learning,” Birdseye recalled. “I’m curious of the factors that makes them behave the way they do. The dancing man worked, and then it didn’t.”

Livestock owners who could learn from Birdseye’s troubles will have a chance next month in a free two-day workshop designed to show ranchers and others a suite of nonlethal ways to keep federally protected wolves at bay — even before they show up on their property.

Removal of “bone piles” and other wolf attractants, how to install electric and flagged fences that seem to deter wolves, range riders and, yes, even deploying air dancers and other nonlethal methods can eliminate, reduce or stall predation from the Rogue Pack and other wolves that develop tastes for beef or veal.

“It’s to help livestock producers can get ahead of the game on this,” said Sam Dodenhoff, assistant district wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is one of the organizers of the workshop.

“It’s about finding the right tool for the right circumstances to reduce the probability of depredation on your livestock in areas where there are wolves or may be wolves,” Dodenhoff said.

The workshop will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Mace Building at the Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point.

A free dinner will be provided by the Jackson County Stockmen’s Association and the Watchable Wildlife Foundation.

That will be followed Sunday, Sept. 8, by a field demonstration of predator-deterrent practices from 9 a.m. to noon at a ranch in the 1300 block of Bigham-Brown Road, Eagle Point.

Participants must register by Wednesday, Sept. 4, at https://jacksoncounty.eventbrite.com.

Other co-sponsors include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon State University, Jackson County and the Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District.

Workshop topics include the benefits and costs of nonlethal deterrents, including case studies where nonlethal strategies have succeeded and how to deploy them.

Removing bone piles — those areas where some ranchers have dumped cattle carcasses — has proven effective in reducing the risk of wolves finding a cattle herd. Building electric fences with bright flags, called fladry, has also proven effective at deterring wolves.

Also range riders who can find and remove sick and injured livestock and keep a human presence in cattle country have also proven to be deterrents, Dodenhoff said.

Other topics include resources available to southwest Oregon landowners impacted by predators, and the status of wolves, which are federally listed as endangered in western Oregon under the Endangered Species Act.

Similar workshops have occurred in northeast Oregon, where wolves wandered in from Idaho and first re-established themselves after decades of extirpation.

Now Southern Oregon is home to some dubious distinctions in Oregon’s ongoing wolf revival story.

OR-7’s Rogue Pack has been blamed for 13 livestock and dog kills in the past 12 months, and the 11 kills in 2018 made the pack the largest inflicter of livestock predation in Oregon that year.

Birdseye said he hasn’t had any wolf activity around his place since that March attack near the dancing air tubes.

That’s possibly because the Rogue Pack appears to have traveled east to the Wood River Valley in Klamath County, where it was blamed for a cattle kill June 2.

But Birdseye is preparing for more.

A 5-foot electric fence could be built as early as next week around his ranch, constructed largely from old wire fencing and paid for largely from federal and state wildlife grants, as well as donations to the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, he said.

But Birdseye wonders when OR-7’s Rogue Pack will again show itself, as it does each fall.

September is when the string of 13 kills began.

“We’re just kind of anticipating September getting here and wondering whether the howling will start again,” Birdseye said. “With the fence, nothing’s going to be 100 percent (effective), but we’re hoping it’ll be 90-percent effective. We’ll know soon.”

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

A remote camera captured this photo of OR-7 on May 3 in eastern Jackson County.