The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is still investigating a case from October involving wolf activity in the Smackout Pack area where the cause of death for an adult cow remains unknown.
In an Oct. 9 press release, the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association reported that the remains of a year-old cow had been discovered near Rocky Creek about 20 miles Northeast of Colville with indication that wolves had been in the area. The cow was part of the all-natural beef herd raised by Olsen Farms.
“According to reports from the Stevens County Sheriff’s Department, the cow had been dead for several days and pieces of the carcass had been ripped off and dragged 10 to 20 yards from the kill site…wolf tracks and scat were both found at the location,” stated the SCCA press release.
However, WDFW Wildlife Biologist Jay Shepherd (Colville) said evidence is not conclusive as to whether a wolf killed the cow or had just scavenged on the carcass after the cow had already died.
“This is not the first time the Smackout wolf pack has scavenged on a cow carcass. This occurred in Smackout Meadows last year,” Shepherd said. “The cow did not die from an attack of any kind and several pictures of that cow were taken that indicate a complete carcass. The Smackout pack was later observed scavenging that carcass.”
Regarding the cow found near Rocky Creek, Shepherd said it was apparent that it had been dead for at least one week, but possibly as many as three weeks, prior to the initial investigation in early October. The carcass was clean of meat, the bones were dry and birds, such as turkey vultures that had been present in the area, were gone to signify that the carcass had been there a while.
The two radio-collared wolves in the Smackout Pack were present in the Rocky Creek area two to three days prior to the investigation according to signals sent to satellites that track their location. However, Shepherd said they were only there for about 24 hours. At the probable time of death during the previous weeks, the radio-collared wolves were recorded much farther away in a remote location of the Colville National Forest.
Radio collars send signals to satellites up to four times a day to help track wolf location. They are then followed using a computer mapping program.
“WDFW cannot say that wolves other than the radio-collared wolves did not kill and consume the cow but that the radio-collared wolves only scavenged on the old remains of the carcass,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd also said wolves do not normally attack adult cows if there are young ones in the area, which there were at the time. There was also no sign of a struggle.
The WDFW conducts intensive investigations regarding wolf cases but cannot always find conclusive evidence on the exact cause of death for livestock based on so many variables and circumstantial evidence. They take each case seriously, Shepherd said, as the consequences are significant.
“WDFW cannot confirm wolf attacks on livestock based on evidence that indicates a scavenging event,” he said. “The results of our investigations, which are not immediate…have consequences such as potential wolf removal, financial compensation, as well as the increased work load of non-lethal, proactive measures.”
The death in the Smackout area occurred soon after the WDFW eliminated the Wedge Pack in September following multiple livestock attacks at the Diamond M Ranch this summer. They killed seven after 10 calves had died and eight others were injured.
The Grey Wolf remains on the Washington State endangered species list as the WDFW works to carry out the state’s wolf management plan. Shepherd said the WDFW works closely with ranchers and alerts them when wolves are in an area their livestock is grazing.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff