PROSPECT, Ore. — Ted Birdseye has tried seemingly everything to keep the wolves out of his ranch in southwest Oregon.
Fladry, guard dogs and even inflatable dancing tube men — similar to those seen at used car lots — have all failed to keep the predators at bay, Birdseye said. Now a $46,000 wildlife fence might be the last hope for protecting his cattle in an area where gray wolves remain listed as a federally endangered species.
Crews finished installing the 5-foot-tall, 3-mile-long fence on Nov. 4, wrapping around 276 acres of pasture at the Mill-Mar Ranch about 35 miles north of Medford. The property borders the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, home of the Rogue Pack, which has at least six known wolves as of 2018.
Made from recycled steel posts spaced 90 feet apart, with eight strands of high-tensile electric wire running between 1-inch fiberglass rods, Birdseye said anything that touches the fence “is supposed to get the shock of its life.” It is powered by a 3-foot-by-3-foot solar panel and battery.
“My big concern is I just hope it works,” Birdseye said. “If it doesn’t work, I don’t know what the other options are.”
Birdseye bought the Mill-Mar Ranch near the small community of Prospect roughly four years ago. The sixth-generation rancher has been frustrated by the Rogue Pack repeatedly attacking and killing his livestock and pets, including eight calves and two guard dogs.
Whereas the state can authorize shooting wolves that meet the definition of “chronic depredation” in Eastern Oregon, the animals are still listed as endangered and managed by the feds west of highways 395, 78 and 95.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked extensively with Birdseye to set up non-lethal deterrents such as flashing lights, alarm boxes and fladry — lines of rope strung up along fences with red flags that flap in the wind, intended to scare away wolves.
Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit environmental group, also donated two neon green and yellow waving tubes to stand guard over Birdseye’s cattle in February. Yet the Rogue Pack keeps coming back, he said, with the latest incident in March where the wolves took down a 5-month-old, 400-pound calf.
In response, Birdseye decided to build a more sturdy wildlife fence around the entire pasture. The project received a $25,000 grant from the USFWS, as well as $15,000 from the Jackson County wolf depredation compensation committee.
Counties are awarded money from the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance Grant Program for non-lethal deterrents.
A second environmental advocacy group, the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, or KS Wild for short, also launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $6,000 for the fence, which it accomplished over three weeks in June.
Joseph Vaile, who until recently served as executive director of the Ashland-based group, said the Mill-Mar Ranch is at a crossroads of wolf movement in the region.
”We felt it was a very important place to put some energy,” Vaile said.
What’s more, Vaile hopes the effort will show that ranchers and conservationists can put their differences aside and work to come up with solutions to protect wolves, while ensuring that producers can keep their operations profitable.
“It’s something that we need to do a lot more of, I think,” Vaile said.
The Rogue Pack has garnered much attention since it was established by Oregon’s famous wandering wolf, OR-7, traveling more than 1,000 miles from the Wallowa Mountains to the southern Cascade Range. The pack was first recognized in 2014, and has produced pups every year since then, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The fence at Mill-Mar Ranch was built by Carpenter’s High Desert Fencing in Bonanza, Ore. It took about three weeks to finish the job, Birdseye said.
”I was impressed with that operation,” Birdseye said. “We’re just hoping (that it works). I guess we’re gonna find out here shortly.”