Rural West going to the dogs

Feral and free-roaming canines wreak havoc on wildlife and livestock

  • Feral dogs harass two bighorn sheep above Lucerne Valley in Southern California's San Bernardino Mountains. JEFF CROUSE, JENNIFER HINOJOSA, JJ RESTORATION SERVICE

 

Jeff Villepique usually carries bear spray when he goes into the mountains. But the California Department of Fish and Game biologist isn't worried about bears as he walks to the edge of a steep, rocky wash near the Mount Baldy Ski Lifts resort in Southern California. On this bone-chilling, misty morning, he's worried about dogs.

Villepique recalls the macabre scene he recently investigated here: the tracks of three or four dogs in the snow, tufts of hair marking where a bighorn ewe was dragged down the talus slope, and the carcass itself -- mangled and missing a leg and a horn. The prime suspects: a Labrador retriever mix Villepique found still gnawing on the evidence, and its partner in crime, a German shepherd mix that watched menacingly from the top of the wash.

"It's a great loss," Villepique says. State and federal agencies in California have spent three decades and a lot of money trying to recover local bighorn populations. But encroaching development and its encroaching pets -- some abandoned and others simply allowed to run free -- are complicating efforts.

Officials have captured hundreds of feral and free-roaming dogs in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains in recent years, especially around Mount Baldy and Lytle Creek. In addition to bighorn sheep, the dogs are hammering rabbits, quail, mule deer and other wildlife.

The story is similar across much of the West, as swelling ranks of rogue canines increasingly harass wildlife, livestock, even people. But most federal efforts to protect big game and livestock are focused on killing wild predators. With limited funds for trapping dogs, local officials like Villepique can do little but try to educate the public.

"I doubt we're even making a dent in what is going on out there," says California-based Forest Service biologist Kathie Meyer.

Wildlife Services -- the federal agency responsible for predator control -- estimates that more than 33 million feral and free-roaming dogs run loose in the United States, biting 5 million people each year and killing about 10 to 15, usually small children. In rural areas, feral and loose pet dogs often form packs that chase down and kill deer, elk, chickens, goats and even cattle.

"People don't understand that Fido on the couch who is normally so friendly will instinctively hurt or chase big game animals," says Tyler Baskfield, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

At Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, a ranger recently came across three feral dogs feeding on a bighorn carcass. At the nearby U.S. Marine Corps base at Twentynine Palms, officials have received numerous reports of dogs attacking threatened desert tortoises. In Texas, the dogs go after white-tailed deer and ground-nesting birds. But most incidents go unreported, says Villepique. "There is no reason for me to think we know the full extent of this problem."

Many ranchers are quick to blame wolves, coyotes and grizzly bears for harassing or killing their livestock, but wildlife officials say dogs are often the culprits. Cascade, Idaho, rancher Phil Davis is all too familiar with dog trouble.

"The worst time, we had about a half-dozen dogs that packed up," Davis says. "They were chasing steer and causing some headaches. One time, they chased a yearling steer clear into town. He finally gave up and hid in someone's garage."

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Job Announcement: Executive Administrative Assistant (Part-Time) Announcement date: October 27, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: November...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job purpose The Executive Director is a proven leader with demonstrated and sustained experience managing people, budgets, fundraising, and contract compliance who guides a well-established...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a Communications Associate to support the advancement of GYC's mission by working closely with the Communications Coordinator and program staff...
  • MONTANA DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure significant...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...