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California’s first confirmed depredation ignites wolf debate

State officials have confirmed that a cow on private property was killed by wolves in western Lassen County on Oct. 13, prompting criticism from farm groups and the affected rancher over the state’s handling of the incident.
Tim Hearden

Capital Press

Published on October 27, 2017 4:39PM

This June 29 remote camera image shows a female gray wolf and two of the three pups born this year in Lassen National Forest in Northern California. GPS data show the Lassen wolfpack’s breeding female — known as LAS01F —  was at the site Oct. 13, when a 600-pound yearling heifer was killed, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

U.S. Forest Service/AP File

This June 29 remote camera image shows a female gray wolf and two of the three pups born this year in Lassen National Forest in Northern California. GPS data show the Lassen wolfpack’s breeding female — known as LAS01F — was at the site Oct. 13, when a 600-pound yearling heifer was killed, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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SUSANVILLE, Calif. — The first confirmed livestock depredation by a wolf in California has prompted criticism from the affected rancher and his allies over how state officials handled the situation.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife posted on its website Oct. 20 a report that the Lassen Pack of wolves had killed a cow on private property in western Lassen County a week earlier.

Data from a GPS tracking device worn by the pack’s breeding female — known as LAS01F — confirmed the wolf was at the site for at least six hours on Oct. 13, when the 600-pound yearling heifer was killed, according to the DFW.

The California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation issued a news release Oct. 27 blasting state officials for not announcing the wolf kill, noting that it would have educated residents about the “full implications” of the gray wolf’s return to California.

The groups also expressed frustration that state law allows for few resources for ranchers or even the DFW to prevent wolf-livestock conflicts.

“The short answer is nothing is going to happen” as a result of the depredation, CCA government affairs director Kirk Wilbur told the Capital Press. “While states like Washington and Oregon also have laws protecting wolves in those states, their wolf plans are markedly different from the California Endangered Species Act and Wolf Conservation Plan.”

Wolves are listed as endangered in California, meaning the animal can’t be killed or hunted even in cases of depredation.

“The California Endangered Species Act, when it was created, really didn’t envision something like an apex predator requiring protection,” Wilbur said. He added the law “doesn’t provide any flexibility for the department” to manage wolves.

Wally Roney, whose land in the Clover Valley in western Shasta County was the site of the depredation, could not immediately be reached by the Capital Press for comment. He told the Lassen County Times he believes he’s lost five cows, mostly yearlings, to wolf depredation and that he’s moving all his livestock to lower ground earlier than usual as a result of the killings.

“I feel sorry for the citizens of Lassen County,” Roney told the newspaper. “They’re going (to) get what they want. Well, guess what? They’re killing my cows. They’ve been killing them all summer. I now have the first verified kill in California. And I’ll tell you this, it took a little bit to get it verified.”

At an average market price of $120 per hundredweight, a 600-pound heifer is worth about $720.

State Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jordan Traverso responded that the state “made every effort” to provide information to affected landowners.

“We went to great lengths to communicate with the rancher and with others in the community nearby about the presence of wolves,” Traverso told the Capital Press in an email. “We made outreach calls to local officials and nearby landowners, consistent with the wolf plan that the Wolf Stakeholder Group helped us develop.”

She said a state employee offered to camp out on Roney’s property to dissuade the wolves from using the meadow, but that the pack had left the site by the time Roney agreed to the offer.

According to the DFW’s report, “wolf tracks were observed within the area,” including “kick marks and disturbed ground consistent with a struggle.” The hide showed numerous bite marks, many of which were about 1.5 inches deep, and the hemorrhaging and muscle tissue damage suffered by the cow were “consistent with attacks by wolves,” the report stated.

The depredation and its fallout come as trust between state wildlife managers and ranchers has remained elusive more than five years after a gray wolf first set foot in California.

The CCA and CFBF filed suit against the state earlier this year to challenge the wolf’s listing as endangered. Discovery has been completed and the case is still awaiting trial in San Diego, Wilbur said.



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