Editor’s note: This corrects an earlier version of the story which misreported whose cattle were attacked.
As family members expressed concerns about wolves and cougars to state officials at a meeting this week in Walla Walla, predators may have been attacking the Diamond M Ranch’s cattle herd up in Northeast Washington.
Northwest Sportsman reporter Jeff Holmes says that on Friday afternoon Ted Wishon told him that one calf was confirmed to have been killed by wolves, another by a cougar and two more were “chewed up” by wolves earlier this week.
The attacks were confirmed in a joint press release from WDFW and the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office later that day.
Wishon is a relative of the ranch’s owners, the McIrvins. The press release states that WDFW Director Phil Anderson has issued a caught-in-the-act, shoot-to-kill permit to the operator, authorizing them to shoot a wolf if they see one attacking his livestock again.
It’s the second such permit issued this year; another was given to a different rancher in the same general area in April after wolf tracks turned up inside a calf pen surrounded by fladry. That permit has not been used, according to spokeswoman Madonna Luers, and expired after 30 days, we previously reported.
This week’s attacks happened near Laurier, a tiny burg on the west side of the Wedge, that area between the Kettle and Columbia Rivers and Canadian border. It’s a region where at least four wolves and four grizzly bears — even a wolverine — as well as mountain lions and black bears are known to roam or have roamed this year.
It’s unclear when exactly the attacks took place — many wolf depredations occur at night — but on Wednesday, July 11, the ranchers contacted the sheriff’s office to report that an injured calf and cow had been found at the ranch.
That day, deputies joined by WDFW enforcement officers and ultimately wildlife biologists confirmed that injuries to the first two animals were caused by a wolf.
The next day two dead calves were found and reported. Investigators determined one had been hauled down by a cougar, the other a wolf, based on bite marks.
The wolf-hit calves exhibited wounds on their flanks and in the webbing behind their front legs.
A fifth calf remains missing.
The young cattle are described as running 250 to 300 pounds.
Steve Pozzanghera, WDFW’s wolf policy coordinator, says that trapping wolves in the Wedge is now the agency’s top priority. They hope to capture and collar a wolf; GPS collars can help track the animals as well as set off radio-activated guard, or RAG, boxes.
Meanwhile, if wolves turn up while state staffers are there, they will use “rubber bullets, floodlights and other strategies to keep wolves away from the rancher’s livestock.”
The agency is also working to figure out how much compensation Diamond M is eligible for. The state management plan says that livestock owners can be paid up to $1,500 for wolf-killed or -injured cattle.
The ranch was the site of the state’s first modern-day wolf depredation back in 2007. There has been talk of a number of cows that didn’t return at roundup last fall.
Get used to it: By one of several forecasts in the state’s now more and more frequently tested wolf management plan, this area, which has the most wolves in the state, is expected to be a population sink for the species due to conflicts with man.
The incident comes during a rather busy week in the Washington wolf world: On Wednesday, three members of a Twisp family were sentenced in federal court for their role in the killing of at least two ESA-listed wolves and attempted export of one’s hide; on Tuesday we learned the Smackout Pack, about 20-25 air miles to the southeast of the Wedge has had at least two pups; WDFW gave up trying to capture wolves in the Blues; and last weekend, Conservation Northwest reveled in the U.S. release of a 90-minute documentary on the Lookout and Teanaway Packs.
Also this week, on Tuesday, Wishon and others attended the Walla Walla County Predator Information Day, sponsored by the Washington Cattlemen’s Association. WDFW staffers were on hand and were peppered with questions; the meeting will be featured in the August issue of Northwest Sportsman.
According to our Jeff Holmes, ranchers in the area have been offering WDFW evidence of wolves in the area for some time, but the Wedge pack is officially still unconfirmed.
Three separate videos posted to YouTube earlier this year show at least three animals walking past a trail camera, and a note with the posts says that there are believed to be four in the group.
A couple weeks ago, WDFW confirmed the Huckleberry Pack of southern Stevens County with a video of five pups.
A litter is more likely to indicate wolves tied to a place versus possible dispersers like OR7, another Imnaha wolf which went to Washington two winters ago, and the Teanaway female which traveled to BC and was killed in a pig sty this spring.
This is the third wolf-related predation of the year in Washington after a five-year stretch without a WDFW-confirmed case.
Table 9 in the statewide management plan provides an outline of options that managers and ranchers have when dealing with wolves.
Issuance of a caught-in-the-act permit to a livestock operator indicates that “WDFW does not have resources to address control.”
The state has hired two wolf trappers and three wolf techs.