A ranch owners aid his family’s cattle operation has lost at least nine calves so far this summer to wolves. The family leases federal grazing allotments in the Colville National Forest and operates one of the largest cattle operations in the state.
By Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times environment reporter
State wildlife officials say they will target a second Washington wolf pack this year to protect livestock.
There is no goal of killing a particular number of wolves in the pack. Instead, the state will seek to kill pack members incrementally, while monitoring the pack’s behavior to determine if it stops killing livestock.
Justin Hedrick, an owner of the Diamond M Ranch, said Friday night his family’s cattle operation has lost at least nine calves so far this summer to wolves, including the Sherman Pack. The family leases federal grazing allotments in the Colville National Forest and operates one of the largest cattle operations in the state.
It is the third time the state has killed wolves to protect the Diamond M’s livestock, beginning with the Wedge Pack in 2012 and the Profanity Peak pack last summer.
“It’s the third pack, but the ninth year we have been going through this,” Hedrick said.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Friday night it would target the Sherman Pack for lethal removal until the pack changes its behavior and stops killing cattle. Wildlife agents will use a combination of traps, and shooting from the ground and a helicopter, said Donny Martorello, wolf policy lead for the state.
The department also targeted the Smackout pack this summer to protect a different rancher’s cattle. Two wolves have been killed in that pack so far and the state continues to monitor the situation.
The return of the wolf to Washington after local extinction in the 1930s was first documented in Washington in 2008. The wolves are naturally migrating here following their reintroduction at Yellowstone National Park. But so far the wolves remain mostly bunched up in the northeast corner of the state, where many livestock grazing allotments on public land are located. Ranchers have borne the burden of the return of the wolf, in increased cost and worry.
“The ear tag and a tail switch is all that’s left, a bunch of tiny bone chips,” Hedrick said of the calf remains after a wolf kill. “You hear all the time ‘You people need to have your cattle in smaller pastures to protect them.’ Well, they are running everywhere,” he said of wolves in mountainous, forested landscapes of the lands where his family and others raise cattle and sheep. “Nobody is safe from it, and they gotta eat,” he said of the wolf packs.
Even with eight range riders touring through the Diamond M allotments the wolves have killed and injured cattle. The landscape is a rugged, rough forest stretch of mountainous country in the Colville National Forest.
The best answer to the wolf problem, some ranchers say, is sheriff’s deputies to respond when needed, Hedrick said. “We need local control by people who understand the culture and custom and economics of local communities.”
He also wished for a return to the use of leg-hold traps and dogs to hunt predators — both removed by citizen initiatives in Washington.
“We don’t raise the cattle to feed wolves. We raise them to feed the heart of America.”
The department is charged with control and management of the state’s wildlife, while the U.S. Forest Service runs the grazing allotments, setting the terms for use. Grazing has been permitted in the Colville National Forest for more than 100 years.
Martorello said the department would kill wolves in the Sherman Pack until they change their behavior and stop preying on livestock.
Martorello said the producers (which he did not name) involved with both the Smackout and Sherman packs have done all that is expected of them to prevent conflict with wolves.
Taking aim at another pack infuriated wolf advocates. “No wolves should be killed,” said Brooks Fahy of Predator Defense. “This is public land, and it is our view that if you have livestock on public land you are responsible for taking care of it. This is ridiculous.
“Until we get livestock off public lands we won’t have free ranging packs of wolves. You can’t have enough range riders out here. It’s all the same, wolves end up dead, it’s every year, and this is just the beginning.”
Washington is home to 20 packs of wolves and the wolf population is increasing by about 30 percent per year. Most packs overlap with livestock in Washington, but very few conflicts actually occur. Only six cattle were killed by wolves in Washington last year, making it a rare cause of death on the range.
Yet every death hurts, whether of a calf for a rancher or a wolf for wildlife advocates.
“This is painful,” said Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, which supports and has helped craft the state’s policy. He remains optimistic for coexistence of wolves and ranchers in Washington, which is the goal of the state’s conservation policy. “We are doing it right and we are doing it way better than anybody else,” Friedman said.
He took notice of the third time around for the Diamond M operation. “It’s hard to miss the coincidence,” Friedman said.
“If every year the sore spot is the same family, something needs to change,” Friedman said.