Fish and wildlife will not confirm kill
Wolves are again active in the northeastern corner of Stevens County known as the “Wedge”, continuing a pattern of conflict that caused significant hardship and financial loss for cattle producers last year. Wolves killed 10 calves and injured 8 others at the Diamond M Ranch in 2012 before the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department removed 6 of the wolves via helicopter marksmen.
However, the removal of some of the wolves has not ended the ranch’s wolf problems.
A newborn calf was killed at the Diamond M Ranch on July 2, drug out of a “tight six-strand barbwire fence” and consumed. The calving pen is only 250 yards from the ranch house and 100 yards from a workshop. On the night of the kill, outside flood lights were on and dogs were tied up not far from the pen, indicating that human presence provided little deterrent for the predator.
A report by WDFW Conflict Management Specialist Jay Shepherd noted that there were wolf tracks near the carcass and there was a drag mark where the carcass had been pulled outside of the pen. The carcass was consumed and “no splintered bones were present with the ribs largely intact, as can be seen at wolf kills.” Despite this evidence, Shepherd determined the kill was made by an “unknown predator” and noted that coyote tracks were within 150 feet of the carcass.
Conversely, a Stevens County Sheriff’s Department report of the incident said that while they were unable to definitively tell it was a wolf kill, it was “highly likely based on the totality of the circumstances.”
Bill McIrvin, co-owner of the Diamond M, said the ranch has never had problems with coyotes and believes the kill is attributed to wolves.
The recent incident at the McIrvin ranch shows a troubling trend of WDFW not confirming wolf kills, a determination that could have lead to the lethal removal of the animals.
Stevens County Cattlemen Scott Nielsen notes that two other wolf-caused cattle mortalities have likely occurred in Stevens County within the Smackout Pack territory. At one incident last October, the Stevens County Sheriff’s Department reported investigating a yearling mortality that noted wolves had potentially killed, or at least fed on the cattle carcass. Reports noted that the yearling had been dead for several days and pieces of the carcass had been ripped off and dragged 10 to 20 yards from the kill site. WDFW noted that wolves had fed on the carcass but would not confirm that wolves killed the animal.
Another yearling death in mid-June of 2013 was also reported in the Smackout pack area but WDFW did not skin the animal, a common practice for determining the cause of mortality, so no formal determination was made in that case either.
The lack of formal determinations ensures that WDFW does not have to enter into the possibility of lethally removing a wolf.
“While there has been a lot of talk about removing problem wolves or paying compensation for wolf kills, the only way that can happen is if WDFW personnel confirm that it was a wolf kill. If they fail to make that determination, no action to right the situation can take place,” Nielsen said. “It appears WDFW has no plans to call anything, no matter how obvious, a wolf kill.”
Policies coming from WDFW regarding compensation for wolf depredations or lethal wolf removal place a significant burden on the rancher to show he is managing his ranch for wolves based on public opinion and the pressure from environmental groups, Nielsen related. He said SCCA is seriously concerned that critical questions related to wolf data are being ignored and public opinion is again driving wolf management.
“The present circumstances suggest the Department does not intend to lethally remove wolves and will not pursue the science to determine how many wolves our area can actually support based on ungulate populations and predator demands. Instead, they will tailor policies to suit environmental groups and hire additional Conflict Management Specialists that will attempt to manage the people, not the problem,” said Nielsen.