By DON JENKINS
The number of confirmed wolf attacks on cattle in Washington in 2018 was more than double any previous year, according to Fish and Wildlife reports.
At least 31 cows or calves were killed or injured, topping the previous high of 15 in 2016. The count does not include missing cattle or suspected depredations in which scavengers picked the bones and ate evidence of wolf bites.
Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen said the number of attacks is increasing, but attributed the large jump in confirmed depredations to better documentation of attacks.
“I don’t think there was a big increase. I think it has been a slow, steady growth,” he said. “It’s not way worse now. They’re just admitting it.”
Fish and Wildlife has not announced a final count for the year, and the department’s periodic reports on wolf activities often lag weeks behind events.
As in the past, most depredations took place in Ferry and Stevens counties during the summer and fall grazing season. The Old Profanity Territory pack in Ferry County was blamed for 16 attacks.
Cattle, however, were attacked in more parts of the state and over more months than usual. Attacks started in May and continued into late fall.
In southeast Washington, the Grouse Flats pack has attacked at least three cattle since late August. In north-central Washington, one wolf took down a 400-pound calf in Okanogan County, where wolves are still federally protected. Fish and Wildlife confirmed the depredation Nov. 29.
The calf was killed in Fish and Wildlife’s Sinlahekin Wildlife Area where cattle gather in the fall before moving from public summer grazing grounds to private pastures for the winter. No cattle had been attacked by wolves there before, according to the department. Unlike in the eastern one-third of Washington, Fish and Wildlife can’t lethally remove wolves to stop attacks on livestock.
“We need to get out from that (federal) listing,” Okanogan County rancher Vic Stokes said. “There’s no doubt we’re going to have wolves. We ranchers have to understand that there are a lot of wolves in northeast Washington, and they are going to disperse.
“We’re trying to prepare for them the best we can,” he said.
Fish and Wildlife has documented wolf attacks on livestock every year since 2012. The high-water mark for depredations remains 2014, when a wolfpack ravaged a flock of sheep in Stevens County. The department confirmed that wolves killed at least 28 sheep and injured six others.
The department shot four wolves in three packs to stop attacks on livestock in 2018.
Nielsen credited new Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind with wanting to get a more accurate accounting of livestock losses. He said the number of confirmed depredations should motivate the department to collar more wolves to better follow packs.
Efforts to obtain comment from Fish and Wildlife were unsuccessful.
Nielsen also said a wildlife deputy hired by Stevens and Ferry counties has helped to find downed calves and cows before the scavengers do. The county’s role has given Fish and Wildlife’s investigations more credence among ranchers, he said. “There’s been some oversight,” he said.
In southeast Washington, the Grouse Flats wolfpack straddles the Washington-Oregon border. The pack attacked cattle owned by three different ranchers between Aug. 23 and Oct. 28, according to Fish and Wildlife.
One attack took place in a fenced private pasture and one on a Forest Service grazing allotment. In the other attack, wolves chased a 600-pound calf off a Forest Service allotment and killed it in an adjacent private pasture.