By GEORGE PLAVEN
The start of the new year was like déjà vu for cattle rancher Ted Birdseye in southwest Oregon.
Birdseye, who runs the Mill-Mar Ranch in rural Jackson County, awoke on Jan. 1 to find an injured, 5-month-old calf about 200 yards from his house, with 2 feet of intestine sticking out of its backside. Wildlife officials arrived later in the day to investigate, and later confirmed the calf was attacked by wolves from the Rogue pack.
It was almost a year ago to the day that Birdseye lost his first animal to the Rogue pack, a 250-pound calf partially eaten in a fenced pasture on the property. The wolves returned again the following week, killing and eating two more calves down to the rib cage and spinal column.
All told, wolves killed at least five calves and one guard dog, a Tibetan Mastiff, at the ranch in 2018. The pack was also blamed for killing four calves in neighboring Klamath County in October, and at least one heifer at another ranch northeast of Medford, Ore., in November.
“It’s just been the same old story,” Birdseye said during a recent interview. “It’s not a good situation.”
The Rogue pack was started by OR-7, the famous “wandering wolf” that traveled from northeast Oregon to California before finding a mate in the southern Oregon Cascades. As of 2017, the pack was estimated to have seven members, including two new pups that survived to the end of the year.
For Birdseye, living alongside the wolves has forced him to get creative protecting his small herd of cattle, while causing plenty of sleepless nights.
When the wolves howl at night, Birdseye said it puts him on edge. Despite lining the perimeter of the ranch with fladry — lines of rope mounted along the top of a fence with nylon flags that flap in the wind to scare off predators — and hanging automatic flashing lights, the pack continues to prey on his livestock.
Biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have even camped overnight at the ranch to haze wolves when they approach.
“I don’t really know what the answer is,” Birdseye said. “There may be a place for wolves, like Yellowstone (Park), but they sure don’t belong in my backyard, eating my property.”
Unlike the majority of the state’s wolf population in Eastern Oregon, the species is still federally protected under the Endangered Species Act west of highways 395, 78 and 95. That limits options for management to strictly non-lethal tools.
Birdseye said he has worked with staff and volunteers from wolf conservation and advocacy groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit organization that has helped to clean up animal carcasses and maintain fladry at the ranch.
Suzanne Stone, senior Northwest representative for the group, said it was a carcass that initially lured the Rogue pack out of the woods and down to the ranch last year.
“Wolves are scavengers, and they can smell dead livestock from miles away, which for them is like ringing the dinner bell,” Stone said.
Looking forward, Stone said they will consider trying other wolf deterrents at the ranch, including inflatable “tube men” powered by electrical fans. The product is normally used to advertise outside stores and businesses in cities.
While it may be “outside the box” for predator control, Stone said at least one rancher in northeast Oregon has had success with tube men keeping wolves away that had previously preyed on his llamas.
“There’s really creative, effective ways to prevent these kinds of livestock attacks, but you have to be proactive and you have to able to implement the right one for the right situation,” Stone said. “That is what we’re trying to figure out now.”