Ranchers, wildlife groups denounce lawsuit against USDA Wildlife Services

March 9, 2015

A recent announcement by five radical environmental groups that they are suing USDA Wildlife Services regarding wolf removal in Washington is gaining strong condemnation from agriculture groups and wildlife conservationists who argue the suit is frivolous and hampers responsible management of wolves.

The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Cattle Producers of Washington, Spokane County Cattlemen and Washington Residents Against Wolves said the lawsuit that challenges USDA Wildlife Services’ authority to kill wolves in Washington is dismissive of the real challenges of a growing wolf population.

“The organizations behind this suit are taking a clear and public stance that they do not care about the cost to ranch families, rural communities or prey populations like deer, elk and moose that suffer when wolf populations are not kept in check,” said Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Justin Hedrick. “It’s easy to sit in your cubicle somewhere and criticize the on-the-ground challenges when it isn’t your family or your livelihood at risk.”

The lawsuit against USDA Wildlife Services was filed on March 3 by Cascadia Wildlands, The Lands Council, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Predator Defense and WildEarth Guardians.

The groups assert that although the USDA has already completed an Environmental Assessment(EA) on the impact of removing wolves in Washington, their lawsuit claims that there is not enough data in the EA to support wolf removal and calls the agency “reckless” for removing a problem wolf in the Huckleberry pack in the summer of 2014. The groups also take issue with USDA Wildlife Services advising the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on the removal of the Wedge pack in 2012.

“It is ironic that these groups are taking issue with removing problem wolves after the ranches involved had already exhausted non-lethal methods and allowed state and agency personnel to intervene on their private property,” said Hedrick. “These ranches did all they could to try to stop the killing of their animals but once wolves started after livestock, there was no way to stop it. There was no other option but lethal removal.”

A press release from the environmental groups regarding their lawsuit against USDA also claims that wolves in Washington are “far from recovered.”

Washington Residents Against Wolves Spokesman Luke Hedquist takes exception to the claim and notes that wolves are well established not only in Washington, but in neighboring states and throughout North America.

“There are over 65,000 wolves in North America, 670 wolves in Idaho, 650 wolves in Montana and over 300 wolves in Wyoming. Wolves have been removed from the Endangered Species List in all three of these states and the states allow for hunting just to try and keep the wolf populations in check,” Hedquist said. “In Washington, we are experiencing a high concentration of wolves in Eastern Washington that are creating dangerous situations for livestock owners, pet owners and hunters with likely more than 100 wolves in the area. By saying that USDA should not be able to remove wolves, these groups are advocating that public safety, other wildlife species, communities and economies should not be taken into consideration when managing wolves. This suit is essentially calling for non-management.”

The Inland Northwest Wildlife Council (INWC), a sportsman’s group with over 500 members and families, said it is seriously concerned about how the lawsuit seeks to run a strictly pro-wolf agenda without taking into consideration the complexity of the issue.

“When you sue to remove a tool from the toolbox, in this case the ability for USDA Wildlife Services to aid in removal of problem wolves by tying it up with red tape, it means these litigants are not considering the impact of an unchecked wolf population,” said INWC President Leonard Wolf. “Hunters and recreationalists in other states know that part of wolf management is sometimes wolf removal. Ignoring that fact means you will have severe declines in prey population as they experienced in Yellowstone when the number of Elk dropped from 19,000 to under 4,000 due to wolf depredations.”

“We need good, responsible management of wolves in Washington that considers all the available options so we don’t create situations that harm communities or wildlife,” Wolf added.

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Justin Hedrick named SCCA President for 2015

Capture

Justin Hedrick, a long-time member of SCCA and co-owner of the Diamond M Ranch, was recently elected as President of the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association for 2015. The Diamond M ranch has been at the forefront of the wolf issue for the last several years and has worked diligently with SCCA to see improvement in wolf management. Hedrick is also an active member in Cattle Producers of Washington and a member of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. Hedrick traveled to Washington D.C. last summer with USCA to lobby Washington Congressmen on the issues of Country of Origin Labeling, reopening horse processing facilities and federal land use.

 

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2015 SCCA Banquet coming up Feb. 7

IMG_0459The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association annual banquet is coming up on Saturday, Feb. 7 at the Community College building in Colville. Social hour starts at 5pm, Prime Rib dinner at 6pm, live and silent auction, games. Tickets are $30–available at North 40 Outfitters and Colville and Kettle Falls Country Stores. Be sure to join us!

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Hunter stalked by Smackout pack wolves

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Wolves desensitized to human presence, WDFW ignores incident

A pack of wolves that have been the “poster children” for the effectiveness of non-lethal methods to deter wolves from livestock recently stalked a hunter near Smackout Road, forcing the hunter to shoot at the wolves in order to avoid being attacked. Most disturbingly, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife(WDFW) has suppressed the incident by not issuing a notice to the public about the danger of the Smackout wolf pack.
According to a written statement obtained by the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, the elk hunter said he was out along Smackout road on Oct. 30 when he heard something in the brush. Turning around, he saw a “black wolf skirting him” from about 15 yards away. The hunter yelled at the wolf and waved his arm to get it to leave, but the wolf “trotted out in front” of the hunter. The hunter shot in the air to try and scare it, but the wolf did not retreat and three other wolves started to close in around the hunter. The hunter backed up and then heard something coming at him. The hunter said he was “scared for his life.” As a wolf came at him, he shot at the wolf, hitting it in the shoulder. The wolf “was growling and biting its shoulder” and then went up the hill away from the man. The hunter, who has asked not to be named due to potential threats or harassment from environmental groups, said he then got on the radio to tell his hunting partners what going on and to “warn them about the pack of wolves on the ridge.” The hunter also gave the written statement to WDFW.
Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Scott Nielsen said the Smackout Pack has been touted by groups like Conservation Northwest to be a “success story” about how non-lethal methods can be used to deter wolves from livestock. However, the efforts are having a troubling effect.
“What we are seeing is a group of wolves that are not afraid of people; are not afraid of guns and were willing to stalk a man who is alone in the woods,” said Nielsen. “These wolves have been totally desensitized to people by the same methods that the environmental groups are saying are effective for livestock operations. What we are creating here are killers that view people as possible prey. This is a serious threat to public safety.”
Even more concerning is the fact that WDFW made no efforts to alert the public as deer season was about to open in the Stevens County area. Late deer season in the Smackout wolf pack area ran from Nov. 8-19.
“Clearly the Department doesn’t want to acknowledge the human threat caused by these wolves and is willing to sit back until something terrible happens. That is unacceptable,” said Nielsen. “If WDFW is going to ignore public safety because their management has created the problem, we need to question their management. ”
SCCA is encouraging citizens to call in any wolf attacks or encounters to the Stevens County Sheriff’s Department by calling 684-5296.

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2014 NEWA Fair Fat Stock Sale brings in $165,277, American West Bank supports awards

American West donation

The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association (SCCA) wants to thank the buyers and participants in the 2014 Northeast Washington Fair Fat Stock sale that brought in $165,277 to the community. The sale gives young producers the opportunity to sell their beef, sheep, hogs, goats and some poultry to local buyers at the fat stock sale at the fair. SCCA again managed the fat stock sale, taking on tasks like lining up the auctioneer, ring men, bookkeeper, and other help needed for the event. SCCA also paired with American West Bank that donated $250 to provide herdsmanship awards to youths that did an outstanding job of caring for their animals during the fair. Pictured (L to R) SCCA President Scott Nielsen, American West Bank Community Branch Manager Leanne Pomrankey and American West Personal banker, Lisa Reid.

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‘Local wolf control is the only solution’

As wolf problems have escalated in Eastern Washington with the recent sheep kills by the Huckleberry pack and the confirmation of a new pack near Curlew, the Profanity Pack, depredating on cattle area county commissioners have recently taken action on the issue.

The Stevens County Commissioners recently passed two different resolutions outlining their stance on the wolf issue. The August 29 resolution asserted that citizens have Constitutional rights to “defend their property from wolves” and affirmed that Stevens County residents can “kill a wolf or multiple wolves if reasonably necessary to protect their property.” The Board went a step further on September 17, citing that WDFW had “failed to act” in regards to the Huckleberry wolf pack because WDFW Director Phil Anderson had authorized the removal of four wolves from the pack after it chronically depredated on a sheep herd near Hunters, but only one was killed. The wolf kills were approved after numerous additional non-lethal methods were brought in in addition to the rancher’s regular predator deterrents of a full-time herder, 4 guard dogs and continual rotation of the sheep. Because of this failure to remove the four wolves that forced the rancher to leave his private grazing permit, the Stevens County Commissioners declared they would “consider all available options to protect the residents of Stevens County, their families and their property.”

“No person should be forced off their legal personal property which they have a Constitutional right to occupy by inappropriate actions of the State,” the Stevens County Commissioners’ resolution said.

On Sept. 22 the Ferry County Commissioners also took official action on the wolf issue, by declaring a State of Emergency in the county, asserting that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has “deviated” from the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan by not removing problem wolf packs. They said the Emergency Declaration was needed because wolves pose “a threat to the health, safety and welfare of children, citizens, property, pets and livestock.” The Ferry County Commissioners have asked WDFW to remove the Profanity Peak wolf pack, located near Curlew, “immediately.”

These actions are incredibly encouraging according to Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Scott Nielsen.
“After working on the wolf issue for two years and attempting to engage the Department of Fish and Wildlife on this issue by having dozens of meetings, sending letters, testifying before the Fish and Wildlife Commission, holding public meetings for WDFW to speak at and trying to work the channels they have available, we have experienced a total failure in public policy,” said Nielsen. “All of these efforts to get the state to abide by its own wolf plan and to implement lethal control or consider other options like translocation have been largely futile. The state is not serious about following the Wolf Conservation and Management plan and their inconsistency is going to put our family ranches out of business.”

SCCA asserts WDFW did not follow the wolf plan in either the 2012 depredation situation at the Diamond M ranch nor the 2014 depredation on the Dashiell ranch because the conditions for wolf removal were met, but not all of the problem wolves were removed. They also note that additional options for meeting wolf population objectives in the state, like translocation, were never pursued despite repeated requests. They also failed to provide non-lethal tools, like wolf collar data, to producers.
Nielsen said SCCA is looking forward to actions that may be taken by the counties, as they are more vested in the economic survival of the area.

“Our county commissioners live here, they are aware of the financial and community cost of these kinds of crises on our communities. We need people who are directly affected, who are vested in Eastern Washington and aren’t trying to manage from cubicles in Olympia,” said Nielsen. “Local wolf control is the only solution.”

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SCCA demands better access to wolf collar data

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The following letter was sent from the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife demanding better access to wolf collar data so incidents like the recent wolf conflict on the Dashiell ranch near Hunters can be avoided:

September 3, 2014

Dear Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife,

This letter is a formal request from the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association to ask you to improve your protocols for sharing wolf collar data with producers in wolf pack areas. With at least 8 packs, or suspected packs, in Stevens County, the likelihood for livestock producers to experience wolf conflict is great. That possibility is even greater when producers do not know where the wolves are located and may unknowingly move their animals near a pack or near a den site, as happened on the Dashiell ranch this summer.

You will recall that SCCA asked for collar data for producers last May, prior to the turnout of livestock on U.S. Forest Service grazing allotments on the Colville National Forest. At a meeting between WDFW, the U.S. Forest Service and SCCA we were assured that obtaining collar data would only require a simple liability/release form. However, a week later we were told that producers would have to sign additional agreements, including a Damage Prevention contract in order to access the data. A number of our producers contacted WDFW and Conflict Management Specialist Jay Shepherd asking for the collar data but either received no response or were stopped by additional red tape, technical issues etc.

Given the import of this data, it is time to remove any obstacles and give producers one of the tools they need to prevent wolf conflict. We are demanding that collar data be given to any producer within a 25 mile radius of a wolf pack via a simple liability/release agreement within 30 days or by October 2, 2014. The department should contact those producers in wolf areas, potentially by working with the state Department of Agriculture/brand department to identify and contact producers. Phone calls, a letter or some other direct form of communication should be used to contact those who are within the 25 mile radius of a wolf pack.

Please let us know if you need assistance in collecting contact information for cattle producers in Stevens County. We have notified the Stevens County Commissioners and our state legislators of our request, as it is within their economic interest to make sure family ranches aren’t driven out of our area.

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Statement from Dashiell ranch on Huckleberry pack situation

This summer our ranch experienced a crisis that is becoming all too common in Eastern Washington. Our sheep herd became the target of pack of wolves determined to kill and maim as many animals as possible despite our hardest efforts to prevent it.

Our usual everyday management included what a lot of people call “non-lethal deterrents” including a full time herder, four Marema/Akbash/Pyrenees cross guard dogs that live with the herd full time and rotating the sheep in their grazing area. But these actions did not prevent the wolves from attacking our sheep. Once the Huckleberry wolf pack began feeding on our band of sheep in early August, the killing was relentless with 2-3 animals lost every day. Once the killing started, we called on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to help and they provided the addition of four Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel stay with the sheep to try and increase human presence. We also allowed  the department to provide a range rider to try and haze the wolves and allowed the Department to chronicle the wolf kills as they happened on nearly a daily basis. This experience has taught us two things: once wolves start killing livestock, no amount of effort can discourage them and don’t put too much trust in words.

Weighing how much words are worth is something I have gained more experience in over the last year in my participation in the WDFW Wolf Advisory Group (WAG). For the last year, I have served as a representative for the Cattle Producers of Washington on the WAG, oftentimes traveling to all-day meetings far from the ranch. The purpose of our committee was to help the Department find ways to prevent and address the kinds of wolf conflicts I am currently experiencing and we can see how well that worked. The WAG had  long discussions about non-lethal methods, compensation, protocols for lethal removal, the monitoring and collaring of wolves and many other topics, but in the end all of the talk did very little to help a person in my situation.

In addition to being part of the WAG group, I am also one of a group of producers who have asked WDFW for wolf collar data so we can manage our herds. In our case we received no response and other producers were asked to sign a contract with certain non-lethal management rules first as some kind of test on whether they deserved the information or not. Being denied this basic tool directly caused the wolf conflict situation our ranch experienced, as we were unaware that we were moving our band of sheep near a wolf den site. Had we had access to the information, we would have made alternate grazing plans.

Words have also failed us because they aren’t always backed with action. We were told that four wolves from the Huckleberry pack would be removed, but as of last Friday, Aug. 22, the Department called off the helicopter team after only one wolf was removed and shortly after pulled the trappers as well. Our ranch was left and high and dry to try to try and handle the situation ourselves while at the same time having our hands tied due to the wolf’s state endangered species status.

With no other choice, we moved our sheep to a friend’s pasture on Sunday where they will be held until we can move them to a new grazing location far from our current site. Having to make this kind of change in the middle of the summer has caused considerable stress, expense and hardship to our operation. The grazing lease we had arranged with the private timber company was good until the middle of October and now we have to move our animals and try to find an alternate spot at the last minute.

Our animals are stressed, many are wounded and over 24 are confirmed as wolf killed. We had hoped to stay on the private leased ground, fulfill our contract, knock down the brush and weeds on the land to help manage it and move in the fall. Instead, we are being forced to leave early because WDFW will not follow through on their commitment to manage wolves and remove chronically depredating wolves. All the commitments from the Department meant nothing and again, words have failed us.

We don’t want to see this situation play out again on a different ranch in the county. The time for words is over, we need to see action. The Huckleberry wolf pack needs to be removed, not our sheep. By making us leave we are only passing the problem along to others in the area when the wolf finds their pets, animals and livestock.
I know from experience that continuing to talk about the wolf issue is futile. Our situation and others clearly shows that while non-lethal  “deterrents” or management methods may work for a short amount of time, but they don’t work forever and once wolves start killing livestock, that behavior cannot be stopped.

Removing problem wolves is part of wolf management and this reality has been accepted by other states. Washington needs to accept this as well.If we allow people to be forced off the land, our economy and our communities will suffer greatly. We are asking our Stevens County Commissioners Steve Parker, Don Dashiell and Wes McCart, our Sheriff Kendle Allen, our County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen and our legislators Joel Kretz, Shelly Short and Brian Dansel to recognize that the time for words is over, the time for action is now.wounded sheep 1 wounded sheep 2 wounded sheep 3

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Wolf management threatens private property rights

August 28,2014

Rancher should not be forced to leave grazing land

As the situation with the Huckleberry wolf pack continues to worsen and the pack continues to kill sheep from the Dashiell ranch on private grazing ground near Hunters, some groups are pressuring the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to make the rancher leave the area. Stevens County Cattlemen’s President Scott Nielsen said that option is “unacceptable.”

“We know that at as this situation worsens, there are those who believe that forcing the rancher to leave his grazing lands will solve the problem,” said Nielsen. “But preventing the legitimate use of private land to meet political goals is always unacceptable. Under this logic, we have seen endangered species policy ruin businesses and deny people’s property rights. We do not want that to happen here.”

Over 22 sheep have been killed since the Huckleberry pack started targeting the Dashiell’s sheep herd earlier this summer. Non-lethal deterrents including a range rider, the work of up to four WDFW department staff, four guard dogs and herders have provided an on-going presence to try and stop the depredation. A helicopter was authorized to remove up to four wolves on Aug. 22, but only one was killed. The helicopter was recalled and padded leg-hold traps have been deployed to catch the wolves and euthanize them.

SCCA argues that if the state does not follow through on their commitment to remove the problem wolves and prevents allowing the Dashiells to fulfill their grazing contract with the private landholder, Hancock Timber, a series of negative circumstances can occur.

“That timberland is being grazed to the benefit of the timber stands, the reduction of wildfire fuel loads and improvement of wildlife habitat,” Nielsen said. “If we call all of that management to a halt because we refuse to deal with a predator crisis, we are moving in the wrong direction.”

Nielsen also said while SCCA supports the attempt to lethally remove the wolves, he said that the current crisis was caused by denying ranchers the information they needed to keep their herds away from wolf areas.

“We need to remember that if the Dashiells had the collar data as they had requested last year, there would likely never have been livestock herds in proximity to this wolf den. Excuses that the information could not be obtained from the tribe are not valid, as the department has had over a year to sort that issue out,” Nielsen said. “The rancher has every right to be on that land and should not be forced to leave.”

For more information, visit www.stevenscountycattlemen.wordpress.com

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Sheep kill by Huckleberry pack totals 17

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One of the sheep killed by the Huckleberry pack that has been skinned by WDFW investigators to confirm a wolf killed the animal.

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Remains of a sheep killed by wolves on the Dashiell ranch.

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A sheep that has been skinned by WDFW investigators and is being examined.

As of August 23, the Huckleberry wolf pack has killed 17 sheep on the Dashiell ranch near hunters. A number of non-lethal methods including guard dogs, a herder, range rider and movement of the herd are all being tried to prevent any more kills. WDFW has also authorized the Dashiells and WDFW personnel to use lethal force against wolves near the herd. (See WDFW press release below):
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WDFW adopts new tactics to stop wolves
from preying on flock of sheep
OLYMPIA – A rancher and state wildlife officials working to herd a flock of 1,800 sheep away from the site of recent wolf attacks in southern Stevens County today received authorization to shoot wolves that approach the flock.

Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), today authorized livestock owner Dave Dashiell, of Hunters, and agency field staff to use limited lethal measures and preventative steps to avoid additional attacks on the flock.

Since Aug. 14, WDFW has confirmed that wolves killed 16 sheep in four separate incidents on leased forest land near Hunters, a small community about 48 miles northwest of Spokane. The latest attack occurred the night of Aug. 18.

Nine other sheep found prior to Aug. 14 had decomposed to the point where the cause of death could not be determined.

Signals from a radio collar attached to a male wolf in the Huckleberry Pack show the animal was at the site, likely with other pack members, when the attacks occurred, said Nate Pamplin, WDFW wildlife program director.

Necropsies of the carcasses confirmed the sheep were killed by wolves, he said.

“The rancher has four large guard dogs and camps alongside his flock at night,” Pamplin said. “Yet, the attacks have continued, even after the department sent four members of our wildlife-conflict staff and an experienced range-rider to help guard the sheep and begin moving them out of the area.”

To further protect his sheep, the livestock owner has removed the carcasses of dead animals where possible to do so and kept his flock on the move around the grazing areas, Pamplin said.

“Dave Dashiell has worked closely with WDFW field staff to find solutions to this situation,” Pamplin said. “We really appreciate his efforts and his cooperation in working toward a shared goal.”

To support those efforts, Anderson directed WDFW wildlife staff to:

 

  • Help the livestock owner find an alternative grazing area away from the Huckleberry Pack.
  • Capture and collar additional wolves in the pack to provide additional information on their movements.
  • Be prepared to shoot wolves in the vicinity of the livestock owner’s sheep. Neither WDFW staff, nor the livestock owner, who was also authorized to shoot wolves in the vicinity, will actively hunt the wolves or attempt to draw them into range.

 

“Observing a wolf in the wild is a fairly rare thing,” Pamplin said. “Given the escalating pattern of attacks on this flock of sheep, it’s safe to assume in this situation that any wolves in the vicinity of that flock pose a direct risk to those animals.”

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species in the eastern third of the state, but the species is still protected under Washington state law. The state Wolf Conservation and Management Plan and state laws set the parameters for responding to wolf predation on livestock.

“Our preferred option is to help the livestock owner move the sheep to another area, but finding a place to graze 1,800 animals presents a challenge,” Pamplin said. “We’ll continue to do everything we can to avoid further conflict.”

The Huckleberry Pack, confirmed as the state’s seventh wolf pack in June 2012, is known to have at least six members and perhaps as many as a dozen. There is no documented evidence that the pack, named after nearby Huckleberry Mountain, has preyed on livestock until now.

 

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