SW Oregon rancher copes with wolves

Ted Birdseye now has 2.5 miles of electric wire and red flagging surrounding his pastures on the Mill-Mar Ranch near Prospect, Ore. The wire and flagging were put up as a preventive measure after three calves were confirmed as wolf kills in early January. The wolves haven't returned to the ranch since then.

PROSPECT, Ore. — Ted Birdseye admits he has been fascinated with wolves since he was a kid, but now as a rancher, he’s not interested in feeding them.

That was the case, however, in early January on his Mill-Mar Ranch, a cow-calf and hay operation that is located near the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest on the west side of the Cascade Mountains and is several miles from the small communities of Prospect and Butte Falls, Ore.

Standing on the back deck of his home, Birdseye pointed north toward a couple of open pastures and then to the nearby forest. He said those were the sites of three confirmed wolf kills. They were just over a quarter mile from the deck.

On Jan. 3, a 550-pound calf was killed and when found, all of its internal organs had been eaten or dragged away. On Jan. 10, another calf was killed and on Jan. 11 a third calf was taken down. The latter two calves, both in the 300-pound range, were completely devoured, according to Birdseye.

John Stephenson, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the primary wolf specialist for Oregon, confirmed that wolves were the predators in all three cases. These wolves are suspected to be the Rogue pack. Stephenson said there are seven to 12 wolves in that pack.

“What is the answer? There is none,” said the 65-year-old Birdseye, who studied animal and wolf behavior years ago while attending college.

“I’ve read historical trapping and ranching books and they all say the same thing … wolves are the scourge of stockmen,” the rancher said. “They kill. They are an apex predator. That is what they are programmed to do.”

Birdseye said he knew there were wolves in the area because back in November he heard a commotion outside his house at 4:30 in the morning. He stepped out his back door with a rifle and under a full moon, saw some of his cattle wedged in a corner of fencing and looking in the same direction. Through the scope of his rifle, Birdseye saw two wolves about 30 yards away.

“They were staring at the cattle, waiting for one to break away for the chase,” the rancher said.

Birdseye admitted he considered shooting at the wolves, which would have been an illegal act, but instead he shot over their heads. They instantly disappeared into the dark.

Although not confirmed as wolf kills, Birdseye said he has lost several other animals since moving to the ranch two years ago. Those include six cows, two registered Limonsin bulls, two Doberman Australian shepherd cattle dogs and a McNab-red heeler cross dog. He found one of the bulls and one of the cows dead, but has no evidence regarding their deaths or the disappearance of the other animals.

“It’s a paranoid situation,” he said.

Birdseye said he would like to co-exist with the wolves. But he has 200 mother cows and their calves to protect.

With Stephenson and his agency providing the labor and materials, about 2.5 miles of electric wire with red flagging has been stretched around the ranch’s pastures, with more wire still to be installed.

The wolves have not been back in the pastures since the Jan. 11 kill and the installation of the hot wire.

“We feel like it (wire) has been working,” Stephenson said. “We’re trying to get a permanent electric fence around the ranch. We’ve applied for the funding.”

Because a wolf in the Rogue pack has a radio collar, the animals are being monitored.

“The wolves had been visiting the ranch every eight to 10 days in November, December and early January,” said Stephenson who has kept Birdseye informed of the pack’s movements when it is in the vicinity of the ranch.

The biologist said there is still plenty of wildlife in the woods for the wolves to dine on, “but our experience from other areas show when the pack gets larger it is more likely to prey on livestock because there are more mouths to feed.”

“And younger teenage wolves seem to have a tendency to get into trouble,” he added.

Stephenson said there has been a breeding pair of wolves in the southern Cascades since the spring of 2014. In the fall of 2016, there were a couple calves killed in the Wood River Valley north of Klamath Lake on the east side of the Cascades. Stephenson said it is believed wolves were the predators, but it couldn’t be confirmed.

A light system that randomly goes on during the night was used in the Wood River Valley pastures. Stephenson also spent a few nights in those pastures and he did the same in January on Birdseye’s Mill-Mar Ranch.

“We try to give the appearance of human presence in these places where wolves have come into,” the biologist said. “Wolves generally don’t come into pastures if there’s human activity around. They tend to avoid people.”

To co-exist with the wolves and to still make an income, Birdseye said he has considered transitioning to a hay operation only or to having only stocker calves that he would graze through the summer and then ship, limiting younger livestock on his ranch. But he has Forest Service permits that he doesn’t want to lose, and he would if he didn’t use them.

Birdseye also has two Tibetan Mastiff dogs that roam the property and are protective of it. There are also 15 horses, including a couple of mustangs, in the pastures and they also can be a deterrent to wolves.

Stephenson said Birdseye will be compensated for the three calves that the wolves killed. The biologist added that the Mill-Mar Ranch presents a challenge regarding wolves because of its mountainous location and because its livestock is closest to where the predators have been.

“We’ll probably see problems at other ranches over time,” Stephenson said.

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