By DAN WHEAT
MOSES LAKE, Wash. — Members of Cattle Producers of Washington grew heated and talked about their constitutional right to protect their cattle after listening to an Idaho ranch manager describe substantial losses to wolves.
“As an appointed official, you take an oath of office to protect the welfare of people. Nowhere in this (Washington’s pending wolf plan) is there protection from diseases in the scat of wolves. It can affect our pets and family. When you threaten my grandchildren, I’m coming after you, buddy,” Craig Vejraska, president of CPoW told Chuck Perry, a member of the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. Perry, sitting on a wolf discussion panel, did not respond.
It was one of many sharp comments at CPOW’s annual meeting Oct. 21 from cattlemen who believe the state is more enamored with wolf recovery than cattle protection. The meeting was held at Pillar Rock Grill in Moses Lake.
The discussion started with a presentation by Casey Anderson, manager of OX Ranch that runs cattle on 150,000 acres of private and leased public land east of Hell’s Canyon in Idaho.
Wolves cost the ranch at least $250,000 in 2009, Anderson said. Most of that was loss of weight on cattle harassed by wolves but there also were 18 confirmed kills and another 70 calves, five cows, two yearlings and one bull that disappeared, he said. Reproduction drops among cattle under constant wolf stress, he said.
Anderson showed pictures of cows and calves killed and maimed by wolves. Some had chunks of flesh gone. Many cases could not be confirmed because spacing of canine teeth marks and bloodshot trauma are required as evidence that it’s caused by wolves, he said. Some of his pictures showed that. Others showed so little carcass left that evidence was gone.
Studies show 93 percent of cattle killed by wolves go unconfirmed, he said.
University and government studies comparing wolf behavior at the ranch to other locations are being done. A wolf spent all day within 300 yards of a ranch foreman’s house where there are children, Anderson said.
“But no worries. Wolves don’t kill kids, just wildlife and they don’t really kill them they just use them for food source,” Anderson said sarcastically.
State Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, a rancher, said watching Anderson’s presentation made him a little ill.
“The science of the wolf plan was written by wolf lovers. I’m going to say something I’ll probably get in trouble for. You know, that (wolf) pack in the Okanogan hasn’t been doing too good,” Kretz said.
He said he’s not encouraging anyone to shoot wolves because that can bring big penalties. But, he said, “Everyone has a constitutional right to protect what’s theirs.”
Jeff Dawson, a Colville rancher, said he’s had unconfirmed wolf-kill of cattle. He said his cows cluster in the center of open fields on a hot day, afraid to seek shade in trees because of wolves. Loss of 25 to 50 pounds in their weight per head is hurting his income, he said.
Len McIrvin, a Laurier rancher, said he had the state’s first documented kill several years ago and has severely wounded calves. He called Fish and Wildlife “a runaway rogue agency” and the wolf plan “unacceptable.”
“What we have going here seems to be a direct recipe for rebellion or revolt,” he said.
McIrvin talked about cattle stewardship and a constitutional right to protect them.
Tim Rasmussen, Stevens County prosecutor, told the group he will uphold property protection rights but evaluates each case on its merits. He said the state Supreme Court upheld a man’s right to protect his apple crop by shooting elk.
Commissioner Perry, a Moses Lake resident and former range land specialist for the state Fish and Wildlife Department, said all he heard would be considered.
“There also is another side to this,” Perry said. “It may not seem as important to you, but there is 75 percent of the people in the state who would like to have unmanaged wolves. They vote.”
It’s extremely difficult to balance their opinion, since there’s no direct impact to them, versus ranchers who are impacted, he said.
After the meeting, Perry thanked Anderson for his “factual and scientific” presentation.
Asked if ranchers have a constitutional right to protect their property, Perry said, “I’m not an attorney. I do not know.”
State law requires commissioners use only scientific information in their decision, Perry said. Public comment is not ignored, but can’t be given the same weight as science, he said.