In the first test of the state’s wolf management plan, wildlife officials say that wolves likely caused the injuries that led to the death of a calf in the Methow Valley late last week.
The rancher, who runs stock on 3,000 acres near Carlton, will qualify for compensation for the loss, according to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Steve Pozzanghera, the agency’s policy lead on wolves in Spokane, said that evidence at the scene supports the conclusion that wolves were involved.
The young animal was killed Saturday, May 19, and then reported to WDFW on Monday, May 21, he says.
“The calf was mostly consumed by the time the department was called in,” Pozzanghera said in a press release. “But photos of the carcass taken earlier by the rancher as well as tracks located in the area were definitely consistent with wolves.”
The kill occurred on the ranch of Bernard and Dianne Thurlow. Since 2008 or so the Lookout Pack has haunted this west side of the middle Methow Valley. A pair of wolves have been photographed in the general area in recent weeks, leading some to speculate there might again be a breeding pair on the territory of Washington’s first confirmed pack in 70 years.
METHOW VALLEY WOLVES CAPTURED ON A TRAIL CAM EARLIER THIS YEAR. (WDFW)
The calf is only the second considered to be a wolf kill in modern history in Washington and is the first dealt with under WDFW’s conservation and management plan, approved by the Fish & Wildlife Commission last December.
The other occurred in September 2007 in Stevens County.
By contrast nearly 60 sheep and cattle have been confirmed killed in Oregon since just 2009, according to ODFW.
According to KC Mehaffey of the Wenatchee World, Dianne Thurlow said that 20 minutes after they had driven by a group of their cattle, they came back and found 20 grouped up and the calf lying on the grass.
“It had been grabbed around the neck and throat and hind legs, and we lifted up one hind leg and looked and it had been eaten from the navel,” Thurlow told the World. “Everything had been eaten up, clear to the backbone, and it was still alive.”
The response to the Methow incident is being handled jointly by WDFW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA’s Wildlife Services Program as wolves in this part of Washington are still listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Pozzanghera says putting up fladry in the large pasture of the Thurlow ranch where the kill occurred wouldn’t be of much use now, but officials may give the go-ahead for non-lethal pyrotechnics, and later this week traps will be on the ground in hopes of capturing animals in the pack.
“That would be for the purpose of radio collaring,” he says.
The collars can be programmed to set off RAG or radio-activated guard boxes that emit any number of sounds designed to scare wolves away from stock.
Pozzanghera terms it an “extremely useful” device, and adds that the collars will also help WDFW track the wolves’ movements, allowing them to notify producers of their presence. ODFW has used text messages in Northeast Oregon to warn ranchers of the whereabouts of the Imnaha pack.
Trapping them may also clear up whether the animals are mates or siblings. At least two other wolves from the pack were poached by Tom D. White of Twisp.
Under WDFW’s management plan, ranchers can be compensated up to $1,500 per cow for wolf predation classified as “probable.”
The plan also allows ranchers to be paid up to twice that amount for lost livestock that are “confirmed” to have been killed by wolves on ranches over 100 acres.
However, settling on what killed livestock can be controversial, with state agents tending to judge conservatively, which doesn’t win them many friends in cattle country.
Three years ago almost to the date a dead cow was found a bit further up the Methow Valley on the Golden Doe Ranch, but officials were unable to determine what killed it due to the advanced state of the carcass.
Pozzanghera says the dead calf was viewed by the same WDFW staffers, district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin and local fish and wildlife officer Cal Treser.
Earlier this year, both underwent training by Carter Niemeyer, the retired federal wolf biologist and depredation expert.
The evidence they collected and photographs from Thurlow were reviewed yesterday during a coordination call with the federal agencies with the result being a “probable” determination, says Pozzanghera.
DEFINITIONS OF “CONFIRMED,” “PROBABLE” AND OTHER CAUSES OF DEATH, P. 92, WDFW WOLF MANAGEMENT PLAN
• Confirmed Wolf Depredation – There is reasonable physical evidence that the dead or injured animal was actually attacked or killed by a wolf. Primary confirmation would ordinarily be the presence of bite marks and associated subcutaneous hemorrhaging and tissue damage, indicating that the attack occurred while the victim was alive, as opposed to simply feeding on an already dead animal. Spacing between canine tooth punctures, feeding pattern on the carcass, fresh tracks, scat, hairs rubbed off on fences or brush, and/or eyewitness accounts of the attack may help identify the specific species or individual responsible for the depredation. Predation might also be confirmed in the absence of bite marks and associated hemorrhaging (i.e., if much of the carcass has already been consumed by the predator or scavengers) if there is other physical evidence to confirm predation on the live animal. This might include evidence of an attack or struggle. There may also be nearby remains of other victims for which there is still sufficient evidence to confirm predation, allowing reasonable inference of confirmed predation on an animal that has been largely consumed.
• Probable Wolf Depredation – There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the cause of death was depredation, but not enough to clearly confirm that the depredation was caused by a wolf. A number of other factors will help in reaching a conclusion, such as (1) any recently confirmed predation by wolves in the same or nearby area, and (2) any evidence (e.g., telemetry monitoring data, sightings, howling, fresh tracks, etc.) to suggest that wolves may have been in the area when the depredation occurred. All of these factors and possibly others would be considered in the investigator’s best professional judgment.
• Confirmed Non-Wild Wolf Depredation – There is clear evidence that the depredation was caused by another species (coyote, black bear, cougar, bobcat, domestic dog), a wolf hybrid, or a pet wolf.
• Unconfirmed Depredation – Any depredation where the predator responsible cannot be determined.
• Non-Depredation – There is clear evidence that the animal died from or was injured by something other than a predator (e.g. disease, inclement weather, or poisonous plants). This determination may be made even in instances where the carcass was subsequently scavenged by wolves.
• Unconfirmed Cause of Death – There is no clear evidence as to what caused the death of the animal.
WDFW currently has $80,000 available to help livestock operators prevent conflicts with wolves and compensate ranchers who lose livestock to predation by wolves. Of that, $50,000 was provided by the state Legislature — funding depredations was a big concern of agricultural lobbyists and rural lawmakers this past session — $15,000 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and $15,000 from the non-profit organization Defenders of Wildlife.
Dianne Thurlow told Mehaffey she didn’t believe the compensation would match the calf’s eventual value.
“She was a nice older calf that could have been a replacement cow. There’s an awful lot of work that goes into that,” she’s quoted as saying.
Pozzanghera said he was “very appreciative” of Thurlow’s effort to take photos of the dead calf, but stresses that operators who believe they have lost livestock to predation must contact WDFW immediately at 1-877- 933-9847.
“The sooner we can investigate the situation, the better our chances are of determining whether the incident is a wolf kill and whether compensation is warranted,” he said. “We also ask that landowners protect the site from disturbances and keep scavengers away by covering the carcass with a tarp.”
Next week he will be meeting with Northeast Washington ranchers to go over turnout and return rates the past few years.
For more on where exactly the Legislature’s $50,000 in predation funding comes from, read this follow-up blog.