Cattle producer says wolves cause breeding problems

(Staff Reports/Chewelah Independent) 

Diamond M Ranch said open cow rate has risen since wolf migration…

A troubling trend has occurred for ranchers in NE Washington, the Capital Press is reporting, as an area rancher said their cattle are experiencing breeding issues since the migration of wolves to the area.

According to the Diamond M Ranch’s Len McIrvin, the rate of female cows ranging for them that didn’t become pregnant has increased from five percent to about 20 percent. A cow must raise a calf every summer for the rancher to recoup costs, and while the Diamond M Ranch is big enough to absorb the loss of producing cattle by auctioning the cows that don’t become pregnant off in Hermiston, smaller ranchers may not be so lucky.

Diamond M also has a winter range to cut costs, but when wolves came into the area about a decade ago, they’ve seen their cattle attacked, their own ranch put in the spotlight by environmental groups and them now playing a public role, the Capital Press reports.
The Capital Press sourced a professor of beef production at Texas A&M University that agreed with the open cow side effect from wolves, and an Eastern Oregon Agriculture Research Center study also showed wolf-caused stress in cows.

The ranch says they lose 70 head to wolves in a year, while the Department of Fish and Wildlife can confirm about a handful of the depredations. Once a number of specific depredations is confirmed, the WDFW has moved into lethal removal protocol which has earned national headlines and responses from wolf conservation groups.

After being contacted by the Chewelah Independent about these concerns, conservation group Conservation Northwest said that they are always open to hearing and investigating concerns from other wildlife stakeholders but that they haven’t seen enough credible evidence from multiple unbiased sources to consider allegations of lower cow fertility due to wolves.

Conservation Northwest said their goal is long-term wolf conservation that works for wolves, other native wildlife and people.

“We want to find relative coexistence between wolves and local communities, an outcome that will require both careful and responsible wolf management, and thoughtful stewardship of livestock operations to keep conflicts to a minimum,” Conservation Northwest Communications Director Chase Gunnell said. “We’re committed to working collaboratively with local partners to find that balance.”

While ranchers can apply for compensation from the state for depredations and even side effects like underweight cattle and open cows. The McIrvins of Diamond M, say they haven’t applied because they don’t approve of the department’s management of the wolves.

The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association is increasing the reward to $15,000 that leads to a conviction of those responsible for shooting, killing and maiming cattle in Stevens County. The association said since 2012, cattle have been the target of malicious groups shooting cattle when they’re grazing near roadways and suspects they might be people upset about the wolf issue.

“We have been running a reward ad for the last several years to try and catch those who are responsible for this,” said SCCA President Justin Hedrick. “No matter how you feel about wolves or any cattle related issue, it is cowardly and cruel to take it out on an animal. We are working with local law enforcement on this issue and have accepted the donation to increase the reward amount.”

Hedrick said SCCA will pay out $15,000 a year for information leading to a conviction related to the cattle deaths. Those with information regarding the attacks on cattle are encouraged to call the Stevens County or Ferry County Sheriff’s offices or call SCCA directly at 680-3497.

Conservation Northwest also agreed with bringing anyone killing livestock to justice.

“Regardless of how anyone feels about ranchers, private livestock on public lands, or wolf management, shooting cows is unquestionably inappropriate and illegal,” Conservation Northwest Communications Director Chase Gunnell said. “If these egregious acts were related to wolf conflicts as some ranchers allege, those responsible are worsening the situation for wolves, small businesses and local communities. This needs to stop, and those responsible should be brought to justice.”

The Washington Legislative Ethics Board ruled that Washington State Rep Joel Kretz didn’t violate rules about ethics by criticizing a WSU wolf expert and opposing money for the expert’s work along with suggesting that he could be fired.

The expert – scientist Rob Wieglus – received a $300,000 settlement after leaving WSU, claiming his work was muzzled by administrators.

The ethics board said that legislators can express support or opposition to state programs, along with redirecting money and shifting functions.

Kretz opposed Wielgus’ research which suggested that killing members of a wolf pack increases livestock depredations, while supporting a UW study that showed Wielgus’s study was statistically unsupported. He also suggested that Wieglus be fired in a written statement.
However, the board said Kretz sought no special treatment or private gain and made his statements based on policy on what he viewed as employee misconduct.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have confirmed that a wolf or wolves from the Togo Pack killed a Ferry County calf in May.

This was the third confirmed kill involving the Togo pack in the past seven months.

The WDFW also said that the producer was checking his cattle daily but not using other deterrence techniques, which the organization recommends. A woodcutter found the calf carcass on a U.S. Forest Service land grazing allotment.

The producer agreed to start using range riders and a rider was deployed on Saturday.

The kill puts the Togo Pack within the realm of lethal removal. WDFW can enact their lethal removal policy if wolves prey on livestock three times in 30 days or four times in 10-month period.

A stipulation, however, is that the producer uses at least two proactive deterrence techniques.

In 2017, WDFW lethally removed members of the Smackout pack after confirming four attacks on livestock.