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Protecting Cattle From Wolves Becomes A Community Effort In Southern Oregon

The only known photograph of the wandering wolf, OR-7, was taken by a trail camera in southern Oregon late last year. Eventually, this member of a Northeast Oregon pack crossed the state line into California
Courtesy of Allen Daniels
The only known photograph of the wandering wolf, OR-7, was taken by a trail camera in southern Oregon late last year. Eventually, this member of a Northeast Oregon pack crossed the state line into California

A conservation group in Southern Oregon has launched a crowd-funding campaign to help build a tall fence around a local ranch. Eight cows and two dogs at Jackson County’s Mill-Mar Ranch have been killed by the Rogue Wolf Pack.

“The federal guys and the state guys and the Wildlife Services, everybody has done everything in their power to help alleviate this situation,” said ranch owner Ted Birdseye.

Birdseye said once he and his crew started figuring all the time they were spending trying to protect his property, “I think they finally just go, 'we need to put up a permanent fence around this place to keep those wolves out.'”

But building a 3-mile long, 6-foot high electric fence is not cheap – the estimate comes in at around $45,000. The fence will mostly be paid for by state and federal wolf funds, but the conservation group K-S Wild has stepped in to raise the final $6,000. They say the money will help make the case that ranches and wolves can co-exist.

“This isn’t the type of thing that you can do at every ranch, but it’s an important thing to do at this ranch because it’s so close to the Rogue Pack, a very important pack for wolf recovery in Western Oregon,” said Joseph Vaile, executive director of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, the group behind the GoFundMe campaign.

Gray wolves in Western Oregon are currently protected under endangered species law, and thus it’s illegal to kill them. The Trump administration has recently announced its intention to delist the gray wolf. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has supported the federal delisting, although Gov. Kate Brown has said she doesn’t support the move nationally. Oregon removed wolves from its endangered species list in 2015.  

The Rogue Pack is well known in the region, in part because of its famous founding wolf OR-7. The wolf wandered 1,000 miles from the Imnaha pack in northeast Oregon to the southwest part of the state and Northern California. In 2014, the Rogue Pack was the first pack to form and settle in Western Oregon in more than a half century. In the past couple years, the pack has started killing livestock.

“Far and away the majority of damage in Western Oregon has occurred at this on particular property,” said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Steve Niemela.

Part of the reason is that the property is near the epicenter of the Rogue Pack’s range.

“Its geographic position – it’s in a place where there’s been a lot of wolf activity,” Niemela said.

This is especially true in the winter months when wolves have been more likely to go after cows. Birdseye says that unlike many of his ranching neighbors, he keeps his 200 head of cattle in Oregon year round.

“So of course, I’m the primary supporter of the wolves in the wintertime for their meals, it seems like,” Birdseye said with a rueful laugh.

Birdseye has been ranching on the property near the town of Prospect for four years. Working with state and federal wildlife agencies, he was successful at keeping the Rogue Pack away for the first couple years. He used electrified wiring and flagging, called fladry, but the wolves eventually acclimated.

Then came a string of other deterrent strategies.

“The landowner has a number of guardian dogs. We had a volunteer bone pile collection party. The landowner has been removing carcasses. We’ve had night patrols, chasing wolves around in the middle of the night,” said Niemela.

“The Defenders of Wildlife actually sent me a couple of dancing men – a couple of the used car lot advertising men that wriggle in the wind … Everyone was hoping that those were going to be the silver bullet,” Birdseye said.

But none of these tactics worked – the inflatable dancing men failed in just a few months.

The fence is the next big push. Birdseye says the hope is that it will be constructed at the end of summer before the wolves move back into the neighborhood.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jes Burns is a reporter for OPB's Science & Environment unit. Jes has a degree in English literature from Duke University and a master's degree from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communications.