"Tube-man hazing" fails to thwart Oregon wolf pack depredation

A pair of wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men are out of a job after they failed to deter gray wolf depredation at a cattle ranch in Butte Falls.

Rancher Ted Birdseye states the “air dancers” were put in place to keep an Oregon gray wolf pack from killing his cattle. The generator-powered tube men were donated by Defenders of Wildlife after a string of January livestock killings at his ranch.

The air-powered tube men (of used-car-lot fame) were Birdseye’s “Hail Mary” attempt at quashing the onslaught of depredation issues at his ranch.

“The dancing men have, essentially, failed,” Birdseye told reporters.

“Those wolves were within 40 yards of them. Those things were dancing away, and they just ignored them. I don’t know what we’re going to do now, I had all my hopes in those dancing men.”

The most recent cattle kill under the watchful eye of the air-powered tube-wavers was a 400lb calf - the 12th depredation mortality pinned on the wolf pack since September.

Birdseye’s young guard dog was also killed by wolves.

As has been the case with many of the attacks, this one began when Birdseye’s dogs alerted him to the wolves’ presence around 4 a.m.

In addition to turning on the generators which power the tube-men, he drove a four-wheeler around the fields where the cattle are located, he said.

Birdseye made a religious practice of turning on the air dancers each night; but gas expenses and the very real fear that the wolves would become desensitized to them prompted him to turn them on only when the wolves were expected or present.

OR-7, believed to be the first confirmed wolf in western Oregon since 1947. Photographed in Jackson County, Oregon, May 2014 (Photo | ODF&W)

The two air dancers and their generators were flailing in the night when the latest calf was killed. Birdseye discovered the dead calf that morning, just minutes after seeing at least two adult wolves walking through a field on his 276-acre ranch.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released its report confirming the wolf attack and pointing to the Rouge Pack as the culprits. The Rogue Pack includes a male gray wolf known as OR-7; the first confirmed wild wolf in western Oregon since 1947 and the first in California since 1924.

Oregon’s Rogue Pack and other wolves residing in Western Oregon remain fully protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Preservation Ping Pong

Just last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to propose a rule to delist wolves in the lower 48 states, which would mean the Rogue Pack and other Oregon wolves would be managed under a state “Wolf Plan”.

Suspected (and expected) lawsuits from environmental groups challenging the ruling could drag on for several years before federal Endangered Species Act protections for the wolves would be lifted, according to wildlife experts.

(Photo | Eva Blue)

If a delisting were to occur, OR-7 and his Rogue Pack would be managed under the state’s “conservation phase,” in which lethal management of damage-causing wolves could occur after four confirmed livestock depredations within six months, and only in situations where non-lethal measures failed - such as in Ted Birdseye’s case.

The constant tug-o-war over predator management in America has created tensions between various segments of the public. Hunters and ranchers have been at the forefront of supporting hunting management plans to reduce depredation, reinforce the lethal association of negative conflict with humans, and utilize a natural fur bearing resource.

While many may regard wolves as a nuisance, many more fear the continued “forced” application of non-lethal hazing is creating resentment towards predators like wolves and coyotes.

The Furbearer Conservation project and our contributors feel strongly that a “kill ‘em all” mentality rarely does any good for wildlife conservation - nor does it add substantial benefit to a predator management debate.

Regulated hunting and trapping (in a managed sense) however, has been proven over and over again to help promote healthy wildlife diversity, instill a much needed natural fear of humans, and allow for a neutral medium across a broad majority of wildlife stakeholders.

While air dancers and other hazing tactics work well for nuisance migratory birds and other prey species, I tend to raise an eyebrow to the notion that a stationary flapping piece of fabric is going to ward off one of America’s top apex predators. Some contest the merits of cattle farming in an environment where predators reside, and go as far as to suggest exclusionary measures such as miles of fencing. While I can say with certainty I’m no cattle farmer, something tells me the logistics of such a task in “ranch country” just doesn’t seem feasible.

One thing is certain - I find it hard to believe the gray wolf clawed its way to the top of the food chain with a fear of flailing plastic tube-men. The latest findings at an Oregon cattle ranch would seem to echo this sentiment.