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‘Same old song and dance’ as ruling saves Rogue Pack

OR-54, a daughter of OR-7, is the only member of the Rogue Pack that wears a GPS collar. [USFWS photo]
Despite threat to livestock, gray wolves given federal reprieve

Southern Oregon’s Rogue Pack of gray wolves side-stepped its 13-month flirt with potential lethal removal when a federal judge Thursday restored their federal Endangered Species Act status.

An 11th-hour move by the Trump administration in January 2021 to delist wolves throughout the lower 48 states and place them in state hands in areas like Western Oregon opened the door for potential killing of regular livestock predators like the famed Rogue Pack.

But that door slammed shut Thursday when a judge restored ESA protection to all gray wolves in the Lower 48 states outside of the Northern Rockies, which had their ESA protections lifted by Congress more than a decade ago.

Despite enough recent livestock kills for the Rogue Pack to be considered chronic killers under state rules, their return to federal management pulls lethal options once again off the table.

“It means we’re going back to the same old game,” said rancher Ted Birdseye, whose northeast Jackson County ranch has been a regular target of Rogue Pack livestock kills and dog attacks.

“It’s the same old song and dance,” Birdseye said.

Wolf advocates embraced Thursday’s decision, saying the Trump administration decision was not based on science and that the latest move helps protect wolves such as the Rogue Pack in the wake of the death of its founder — famed wolf OR-7.

OR-7 disappeared two years ago and has been officially deemed dead. His one-time mate, dubbed OR-94 based on her numbered GPS collar, was found dead in 2020 in the Southern Oregon Cascades.

“These two wolves represent the first generation of wolves in Western Oregon in nearly a century,” said Michael Dotson with the conservation group Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center based in Ashland. “Delisting is premature and obviously politically driven.”

Mark Vargas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Rogue Watershed manager, said his agency had been evaluating the Rogue Pack’s penchant for livestock kills to see whether it reached the threshold for “chronic” deprivation.

Such a threshold would ease livestock owners ability to kill offending wolves in the act of killing or chasing livestock, but “we weren’t there yet,” Vargas said.

“We were right at the edge,” Vargas said.

But that’s no longer an option as recent federal interpretation of ESA language means the federal government does not support killing protected wolves over livestock losses.

Based on confirmed depredation cases assembled by ODFW, the Rogue Pack is now responsible for at least 39 confirmed incidents since 2016, though the Oregon State Cattlemen’s Association attributes livestock deaths to OR-7 dating back to 2001 in the Wallowa Mountains.

That running tally dwarfs the Imnaha Pack’s 31 incidents between 2011 and 2016 in Northeast Oregon, ODFW data show.

In 2016, aerial gunners under state authorization killed the last four members of the Imnaha Pack, including the patriarch, an aging OR-4, which was OR-7’s father.

OR-7 was a member of the Imnaha Pack when it was collared in 2011, before it left the pack for its search for a mate across Oregon and Northern California, eventually forming the Rogue Pack.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.