Ted Birdseye had already lost three calves to wolves from the Rogue pack in southwest Oregon back in January. On Sept. 24, wolves returned and killed one of the guard dogs Birdseye brought in to protect his herd.
Birdseye, who owns the Mill-Mar Ranch south of Prospect in Jackson County, said he was awakened early in the morning to the sound of his dog, an adult Tibetan Mastiff, being attacked in a fenced pasture 600 yards from the house.
By the time Birdseye got up, jumped into his boots, grabbed a headlamp and rifle and ran out onto the front porch, he said the wolves were gone, though he did find the dog limping along slowly with blood on its backside. It died later in the day.
Wildlife investigators shaved the dog, finding injuries consistent with wolf bites. Birdseye said the animal’s back end “was like grape jelly.” The investigation also turned up wolf tracks on the property, which together was enough for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to confirm the Rogue pack was responsible for the attack.
“There’s no escaping them,” Birdseye said. “It seems like they’re getting pretty brazen.”
Problems with the Rogue pack at Mill-Mar Ranch began in January, when wolves killed three calves in a span of eight days, prompting Birdseye and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ramp up non-lethal deterrents at the property.
As part of the effort, Birdseye was given two Tibetan Mastiffs from a family in Wimer, Ore., on the other side of the county.
“I do believe they’ve been a deterrent,” Birdseye said. “Any time the wolves have been in the vicinity, they just carry on like crazy.”
John Stephenson, wolf biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Oregon, said the ranch is within the Rogue pack’s territory, not far from where the wolves den.
It is common for wolves to act aggressively toward dogs, Stephenson added, viewing them as competition.
“If they have the number on the dogs, they can behave pretty aggressively,” Stephenson said.
The Rogue pack was started by Oregon’s famous wandering wolf, OR-7, and his mate in 2014. In 2017, the pack had seven known animals, including two new pups that survived through the end of the year.
Unlike wolves in Eastern Oregon, the species is still federally listed as endangered west of U.S. highways 395, 78 and 95. Birdseye said he is working with the USFWS to once again surround his 276-acre property with electrified fladry — lines of rope with flags that flap in the wind to spook wolves from entering the pasture — and set up additional flashing lights to scare away the predators.
Stephenson said the fladry was an effective tool earlier this year, and hopes it will be effective again. But Birdseye said he is becoming increasingly frustrated, dealing with the anxiety of wolf attacks at the ranch.
“I need to have some way to protect my livelihood and not have to stress out about this, day in and day out,” he said.
The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee passed a bill Sept. 26 by a vote of 19-15 that would remove gray wolves from the federal endangered species list in the lower 48 states. The legislation has drawn sharp rebukes from environmental and conservation organizations, with Jason Rylander, senior staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, saying science — not politics — should decide when to delist species.
“Gray wolf recovery is well underway, but the work is not done,” Rylander said in a statement. “If Congress really is committed to preserving and protecting wildlife, they would spend their time finding the funding needed to recover species, not attacking the process.”
Oregon currently has at least 124 wolves living across the state, according to the 2017 ODFW annual wolf report.