Tensions are reported as running “high” between WDFW and a northern Stevens County ranch following the discovery this week of yet another dead calf and two injured ones and the continued failure of the agency’s wolf hunters to take out any more members of the Wedge Pack despite setting up near a carcass for over a week.
One of the two latest injured calves will likely die.
Reported Friday, it had a “football-sized chunk” of flesh missing from a hindquarter, according to Bill McIrvin of the Diamond M.
Steve Pozzanghera, WDFW’s wolf policy lead, says wolves were responsible “without a doubt in anyone’s mind.”
It will be marked down as a confirmed wolf kill linked to the Wedge Pack, which runs between the Kettle and Columbia Rivers and up into Canada.
The other calf had an older injury, “a real nasty but healed wound from the base of the rectum to the udder,” says Pozzanghera.
It could have been injured running over a T-post, broken stick or something, but “given the situation, the location and injuries, this goes down as a probable,” he says.
As for the dead calf, it was found on Wednesday up on a Colville National Forest grazing allotment near Summit Lake near where the Wedge wolves were first blamed for this now-two-month-long series of depredations on Diamond M cattle. Pozzanghera said it had been almost entirely consumed. Its remains — bones with bits of flesh and dried blood — was still fresh, making it likely to have been killed within the prior three days.
A final conclusion as to why it died is still pending, but even as all the depredations begin to blur anymore, there have been at least 14 injured or killed cattle that WDFW has listed as confirmed or probable wolf attacks since July.
So far, despite the GPS collar on the alpha male and attempting to bait in wolves, WDFW’s hunters have not shot any of the four they’ve been targeting since mid-August to thin the pack or break up the cycle.
Their presence here over 21 days hasn’t ended the depredations either.
And there’s word that the carcass of a calf pulled into a field Sept. 5 for the marksmen to get a clear shot at scavenging wolves has over the last nine days gone from being whole to scattered parts that together are “not enough to fill a two-gallon ice cream container.”
“There was wolf manure all over,” McIrvin said.
It raises increasing questions for him and others about the assigned staff, their tactics and the seriousness of WDFW’s hunt.
The agency has had extremely little to say about any of that except assurances that, yes, they are very serious.
“I don’t think they’ve been trying anything effective,” McIrvin counters.
He says that the shooters were just recently provided some night-vision equipment.
There are a range of possible explanations for WDFW’s lack of success at the carcass:
* The alpha male fed on the carcass exclusively. Because of the importance of data from its collar, WDFW has deemed it off limits;
* It was consumed by a wolf that the shooters judged to be the alpha female, which the state also wants to protect at the time being;
* It was fed on by both alphas but no others, or others that were shielded or in front of the alphas, raising the odds of a bullet also striking the pair.
* In addition to wolves, it was consumed by the rather large suite of local predators, including black bears, grizzly bears, cougars, bobcats, coyotes and ravens;
* It was eaten by wolves at times no marksmen happened to be on site, or when their attention was diverted.
* It was eaten by wolves at night before they had night-vision equipment.
* It was dismantled by the marksmen and taken to more promising locations to shoot over.
As for the aid of the GPS collar, the area is described as some of the brushiest in Northeast Washington, which would make it difficult to get clear shots even if you were near the pack.
And as riflemen in Idaho and Montana found last season, the woods may seem like they’re crawling with wolves, but they’re not an easy hunt. Both states saw fewer killed than quotas allowed for, though some units’ limits were met.
WDFW has good reasons not to talk about the hunt or its marksmen.
Why enrage those who are passionate about wolves and whose frothing anger has been on display before? See Millage, Robert and the killing of Idaho’s first wolf by a hunter; and Niemeyer, Carter and his killing of Idaho’s livestock-chewing Whitehawks.
And a state-sponsored lethal removal is anything but a well-pursued elk or deer whose taking earns the sportsman the right to tell a tale and pass photos around.
But at the same time, the silence, lack of results as well as continued depredations are increasingly troubling.
“Tensions are getting pretty tough” with the McIrvins, acknowledges WDFW’s Pozzanghera.
Speaking generally about his own business practices, McIrvin says, “Either you perform or we get someone to come in.”
It might be argued that if it WDFW hadn’t gone in and established extra presence beyond its trappers and wolf techs or if, say, wolf advocates had gotten their way with the governor, perhaps more cattle might have been hit by now.
As it is, McIrvin believes he’s found eight carcasses and, based on the rates of dry or tight-bagged cows coming off the allotment, he says they might end up losing 40 calves off public land.
Wolf advocates made hay through late August with some federal wolf experts’ disagreements with WDFW’s final depredation conclusions before some finally came around and acknowledged that, yeah, OK, it’s wolves. And they’ve said that Diamond M has to do much more to prevent wolf attacks. A short-term solution they pitched is more range riders. They and the Seattle Times talked to Bill about that, but he notes the hills are full of other producers’ stock.
“We would run (the wolves) out of our cows and into other cows,” he says.
On the U.S. side of the border, the Wedge Pack has “100 percent overlap” with grazing allotments, a wildlife manager told the Fish & Wildlife Commission earlier this summer.
Long term, McIrvin says the wolves here should be regionally delisted which, depending on how the laws to make that so might be written, would make it easier for ranchers to take out problem wolves.
There are at least seven confirmed packs east of the Okanogan River and north of the Columbia Basin, two suspected ones and another pair of wolves between Sherman Pass and the Colville Reservation which a U.S. Forest Service staffer and his dog encountered last week.
A bill to take wolves off the state endangered list east of Highways 17, 97 and 395 may be introduced this coming session in Olympia.
Currently delisting is tied to meeting statewide recovery goals.
Meanwhile the calf losses pile up, but for McIrvin it’s not about the money.
He says he was interviewed on a Seattle radio station and afterwards kept listening as hosts dismissed him because of the money angle.
“If it was about the dollars we’d be taking the (state compensation) money or selling conservation easements or selling 20s,” he says. “It’s about what’s right and what’s wrong.”
At the moment in the Wedge, a lot is going wrong.
When things go wrong, new solutions must be found.
Recall the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get different results.
Bill McIrvin hasn’t given up on finding a solution with the state though he says his father, Len, is at that point.
Reset has to be hit, on all fronts. There’s a reason wolves are in the Wedge and they will return, just as they are returning to Washington.