Cattleman calls for local management of wolves

Justin Hedrick, a Laurier, Wash., rancher and president of the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, wants local sheriffs to manage wolves.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on September 19, 2017 1:37PM

Rancher Justin Hedrick says local sheriffs are more responsive to area ranchers in the event of a wolf attack on livestock.

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press File

Rancher Justin Hedrick says local sheriffs are more responsive to area ranchers in the event of a wolf attack on livestock.

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A northeastern Washington cattleman says he has turned to the local sheriff for help in dealing with wolves.

Justin Hedrick, co-owner of the Diamond M Ranch in Laurier, Wash., said he first contacts Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen in the event of a wolf attack on his cattle. He believes the local law enforcement agency is better equipped than state wildlife managers to deal with problem wolfpacks.

The state process for managing livestock depredation has not improved in the last seven to eight years, Hedrick said.

“It’s no different than it ever has been,” Hedrick said. “Every year, the (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) says, ‘Man, we learned from our mistakes this year, next year we’re going to be faster. We’re going to do it better next year.’”

Under the state wolf management plan, the department is responsible for managing wolves in northeastern Washington.

Allen said a representative of WDFW and a deputy or undersheriff go out to investigate kills when they are reported. The sheriff’s office also dispatches for WDFW on depredations and dangerous animals.

Allen said the sheriff’s determination and the state’s usually match.

In previous years, the WDFW agent on the scene wasn’t allowed to make a decision. The results of the investigation had to be sent to a panel to determine whether it was a wolf kill. In recent years, the state representative has been given more “latitude” to determine whether a kill was likely a wolf or not, he said.

Ferry County Sheriff Ray Maycumber said he often works with Hedrick. He has commissioned a part-time special deputy to monitor and manage wildlife threats, primarily for smaller-scale ranchers with 50 to 300 cows.

“One cow to somebody who’s got 50 means a lot more than one cow to someone who’s got a few thousand,” he said. “We’re trying to push (the deputy) that way because those folks have the most to lose.”

Maycumber said he would like to explore the possibility of several counties funding the deputy position full-time to cover a wider area.

Maycumber sends a staff member to the site of every kill possible, and requests copies of reports and photographs when he can’t.

Hedrick estimates his ranch lost at least 10 cattle to wolves this year, five of which were confirmed by the state as depredations and five that were not confirmed.

“In Wyoming, those guys say you only find one out of seven, and that’s in more open country,” he said. “We could have up to 70 head right now that we haven’t found. We’re not 100 percent sure, but we found 10, anyway.”

The cost of the cattle losses alone is $20,000, Hedrick said. Additional costs, including extra management and time, fuel, weight loss, reduced pregnancy rates and pregnant cows losing calves from the stress of being chased and attacked by wolves, would be another $20,000, he said.

Hedrick said he knows personally one rancher who has gone out of business. He’s heard of others who have also gone out of business, he said, and more are “on the brink.”

The Diamond M Ranch has refused payment from the state for wolf depredations.

The Stevens County organization wants quick removal of wolves that prey on domestic livestock.

Maycumber said public faith in the WDFW appears to be declining. He believes an element of local control, with the ability to tailor a county’s response, would bolster support for the process.

“They’re not really people the public feel they can hold accountable,” Maycumber said. “If I’ve got a special deputy and I do something wrong, the people of Ferry County can tell me what I need to do and if I don’t do it, they can remove me.”


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