Grizzly mauls sheepherder, kills dogs and sheep
After what could be the first grizzly bear attack on a human in the Upper Green, a 46-year-old sheepherder was life-flighted to Idaho Falls early on the morning of Sept. 14 after being seriously mauled.
The grizzly began its rampage in the early hours in a sheep herd grazing near Forest Road 617, at the eastern edge of the Gros Ventre Wilderness near Tosi Creek. The herd is tended by Marcello Tejeda, of Rock Springs, and Jorge Mesa, both of whom were awakened by what they thought was a black bear in the sheep, according to their employer, rancher Mary Thoman of Fontenelle.
Sept. 14, Thoman was concerned for Tejeda and her sheep, which have been harassed by predators all summer, she said. “We have had a nightmare,” she said of the W&M Thoman Ranches’ forest allotments on the Upper Green. “Nothing but grizzlies and wolves all summer long.”
At 3:30, the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office received a call from Mesa that a bear had attacked a man and that an ambulance or doctor was needed to help him, according to preliminary reports. Thoman said they have always had problems with black bears getting into the sheep but the grizzly situation has been worsening since 1998 when she said grizzlies were moved into that area from elsewhere.
“The dogs were raising heck and they thought it was a black bear,” Thoman said her sheepherder told her. This was a grizzly sow with one cub, though, she was told. Thoman said she recently saw a collared grizzly sow with three cubs that had “just showed up” but didn’t know if they were the same animal.
The guard dogs stay with the sheep and protect them as best they can, she explained. “Once they found out a bear was in the sheep the sheepherder (Tejeda) sent his (guard) dog in and the bear killed that one,” Sheriff Bardin related. Tejeda then sent in another guard dog and apparently was attacked by the bear when he tried to save the second dog, which was killed, he said. The sheepherder received a seven-inch gash on top of his head, two punctures to the left side of his chest, three claw wounds to the right side of his abdomen and a puncture wound to his right wrist, early reports stated.
“This is the first human attack there that I can remember,” Bardin said. Mesa used pepper spray – twice – to drive the bear away from Tejeda and then called Thoman for help. Thoman said giving her sheepherders guns to shoot marauding predators isn’t a solution – “or we just have more trouble.” Mesa then notified the sheriff’s office, and a team was sent in including an Emergency Medical Services unit, Kendall Valley Fire Department’s first-responders, three deputies and a Forest Service officer while Air Idaho, a search-and-rescue team and a doctor were put on standby.
Because of the poor travel conditions, a deputy drove Tejeda and Mesa (who had pepper spray in his eyes) out to a waiting ambulance and they were transported to the Pinedale Clinic. Mesa’s eyes were cleaned and Tejeda was airlifted to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC) in Idaho Falls. Tejeda was listed in “serious” condition Sept. 14, according to EIRMC spokesperson Nancy Browne.
A Wyoming Game & Fish team investigated the scene of the attack Sept. 14. “We’ve heard this person has been injured and that’s our primary concern,” said G&F spokesman Mark Gocke. “We hope he’s all right.”
Gocke had no further information Sept. 14, but said G&F is participating in the investigation and more details will be forthcoming.
Predators have heavily targeted sheep and cattle on Upper Green permitted grazing allotments this year, according to Thoman. Most of the publicly confirmed predations are sheep killed by wolves but there are plenty of others in the mountains.
Thoman said she can’t put a number to their losses yet, not until the herds are gathered and brought back home. “What they verify doesn’t match up, though,” she said of investigating agencies. “The trouble is by the time you notify them, if they don’t get there within three or four days they can’t confirm,” she said, adding other animals will feed on the carcasses. “We just have to put up with them,” she said. “They need to put them away. They’re just getting too thick.”
Thoman said most people don’t realize how heavy livestock losses are in the Upper Green and public land managers seem to not care – “I think they’re just trying to get rid of us (livestock ranchers).”â€¨â€¨Thoman doesn’t plan on giving in to bears, wolves or public agencies lightly, she said. Thoman sheep have grazed on the same allotments since 1978 and her family began ranching before 1900. “It isn’t like we just sprang up,” she said.
On Aug. 6, Wildlife Services confirmed a grizzly had killed two head of cattle in the Upper Green. In a slew of late July and August attacks in western Wyoming, wolves killed dozens of sheep, a handful of cattle and a half-dozen guard dogs, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reports. Recent reports reveal lethal control efforts have removed 10 wolves to date from the Green River Pack and five from the Dog Creek Pack.
Thoman worries that wolves and bears have run the sheep around so much that right now without anyone up there to keep an eye on them, her herds could be scattered throughout the forest.
“I suppose we’ll be hunting sheep up there until Christmas,” she said.
Editor’s Note: As of press time Marcello Tejeda had been upgraded to fair condition.