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WA: Washington ranch strikes back in lawsuit over wolf management

By Don Jenkins Capital Press

STEVENS COUNTY, Wash. — The Diamond M Ranch has moved to defend itself against allegations that it is to blame for wolves mauling and killing its cattle for more than a decade in northeast Washington.

The family-owned operation, based in Stevens County, Washington, filed a motion Friday, Sept. 18, in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington to take part in a lawsuit brought by three environmental organizations against the U.S. Forest Service.

The suit claims the Forest Service idly stands by as the Diamond M refuses to avoid conflicts with wolves in the Colville National Forest. The Diamond M says it’s been “called out” and wants to join the court battle.

Other lawsuits by wolf advocates in state courts against Washington Fish and Wildlife have criticized the Diamond M. Until now, the ranch has not defended itself in court.

“We’ve been dragged through the mud and abused with no chance to redeem ourselves whatsoever,” Diamond M partner Len McIrvin said Monday. “We want to at last clear our name.”

For many years, the Diamond M has been the bete noire of some wolf advocates, who say if it weren’t for the ranch only a handful of wolves would have been killed by Fish and Wildlife.

WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Kettle Range Conservation Group sued the Forest Service in June, alleging the federal agency’s indifference to Diamond M grazing practices violates the National Forest Management Act.

Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson on Monday granted Diamond M’s motion, allowing the ranch to participate in the lawsuit. The ranch argues its business is at stake, an interest not shared by the Forest Service.

“Even though they’re good people, we’re not number one in their lawsuit,” McIrvin said.

The Diamond M has Forest Service permits to graze 736 cow-calf pairs. The ranch has been grazing in the Colville National Forest since 1945 and has never violated its permits, according to the ranch’s court declaration.

Wolves began attacking the ranch’s cattle in 2008. Wolf packs saturate the region, according to Fish and Wildlife. The department has defended Diamond M, saying the ranch has tried to prevent attacks with non-lethal measures.

No measure, or combination of measures, will stop all attacks, according to the department.

The Diamond M has refused to apply for state compensation for cattle losses. The payouts are temporary and entice ranchers to accept an overpopulation of wolves, according to the ranch.

“Their big criticism of us is we won’t take their money,” McIrvin said.

Diamond M was one of three ranches that had cattle attacked this year by the Wedge wolf pack. In response, Fish and Wildlife eliminated the pack, killing the three members.

Since then, the cattle have thrived, McIrvin said. “Those cattle are fat and sassy and behaving like they’re suppose to.”