The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Stevens County Sheriff’s office jointly responded this week to wolf and cougar attacks on a rancher’s livestock in northern Stevens County.
The owner of the Diamond M Ranch contacted the Stevens County Sheriff’s office July 11 after discovering an injured calf and cow on his ranch in Laurier, just east of the Kettle River near the Canadian border. The following day, he found two more calves that had been dead for several days.
After receiving the rancher’s initial report, Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen and Chief Deputy Colin Webb contacted WDFW enforcement officers, who joined them on the ranch to investigate the cause of the livestock injuries. WDFW officers and wildlife biologists, in collaboration with the Stevens County Sheriff, confirmed that injuries to the first two animals were caused by a wolf.
After the second report, investigators returned to the ranch and confirmed – based on distinctive marks left on the carcasses – that one calf was killed by a cougar and the other was killed by a wolf. Another calf remains missing from the rancher’s herd.
WDFW Director Phil Anderson has issued a permit to the rancher authorizing him to shoot a wolf if it is caught attacking his livestock again. The department is also working to determine the amount of compensation the rancher is eligible to recover for his losses.
“The permit is critical for the rancher to protect his livestock from further attack,” said Steve Pozzanghera, director of WDFW’s eastern region office in Spokane. “We’ve also offered to help him protect his animals using other measures.”
Pozzanghera explained that WDFW staff are monitoring the area and are prepared to use rubber bullets, floodlights and other strategies to keep wolves away from the rancher’s livestock. A department biologist is also setting up traps to capture and radio-collar a wolf. Radio collars can be used not only to track an animal’s movements, but also trigger alarms near livestock.
The Diamond M Ranch was also the scene a wolf-livestock depredation in 2007 – the first documented in Washington state in recent times. A wolf pack has long been suspected to range through the area known as The Wedge, a triangular section of northern Stevens County between the Kettle and Columbia rivers.
WDFW staff have had ongoing discussions with ranchers about livestock lost in the wedge, and have set up remote cameras in the area to detect wolf activity and confirm the pack’s existence.
“With the attacks at the Diamond M Ranch this week, the wedge area is now WDFW’s top wolf-trapping priority,” Pozzanghera said. He also expressed appreciation for the Stevens County Sheriff’s office cooperation in this week’s investigation.
“Staff from the sheriff’s office attended the wolf-depredation training course we held for our staff last spring,” he said. “I think this kind of joint effort is needed to successfully address problems with wolves and other wild predators.”
Pozzanghera urges ranchers who believe they have lost livestock to predation by any kind of wild animal to contact WDFW immediately at 1-877-933-9847.
“The sooner we can investigate the situation, the better our chances are of determining why the animal died, if a wolf was the predator and if 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.”
The wolf attack on the Diamond M Ranch livestock is the third incident investigated in Washington since the state adopted a Wolf Conservation and Management Plan in December 2011. The other two wolf attacks – in Okanogan and southern Stevens County – resulted in the loss of a calf and a sheep.
The plan (available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/) addresses both recovery of the gray wolf, which is a state endangered species, and conflicts with livestock producers.