Wolf attacks on cattle were mounting Wednesday on a grazing allotment in the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington as the state Department of Fish and Wildlife detailed a months-long battle to prevent depredations, but had not said whether it would cull the pack.
Cattleman Len McIrvin of the Diamond M ranch estimated wolves have killed 30 to 40 calves so far and that losses will total 70 to 80 calves by the time the herd is off the allotment. He said he expects the ranch also will suffer losses with low pregnancy rates and underweight cattle.
“It’s not a sustainable situation,” he said. “It’s a wreck.”
The attacks are occurring in an area referred to by Fish and Wildlife as the Old Profanity Peak pack territory. The department killed seven wolves in the pack in 2016 and one wolf in the neighboring Sherman pack in 2017. Both packs no longer officially exist, but wolves remain in the area. The new pack has three or four adults and likely no more than two pups, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The department confirmed between Sept. 5-7 that the pack killed one calf and injured four others. An attack on a sixth calf was documented Tuesday evening, according to sources. Efforts to confirm the depredation with Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Fish and Wildlife policy calls for the department to consider killing one or two wolves if a pack attacks at least three cattle within 30 days. Late Tuesday, the department issued a lengthy description of steps it and the ranch have taken since April to keep cattle and wolves apart.
The department did not indicate whether it would move to lethal control. The department could cite the detailed account of preventive measures in defending in court a decision to kill one or two wolves.
The Old Profanity Peak pack territory is rugged and though packs have been culled, they have not been totally removed. Fish and Wildlife reported adding range riders to the area, but McIrvin said human presence around cattle has not stopped attacks.
He said he supports lethal removal by the department, but that ranchers still need to be allowed to control the predators. Shooting one wolf won’t stop the depredations, he said. “I’m for it, but it won’t solve the problem. It won’t change the pack behavior.”
McIrvin estimated the Diamond M Ranch has lost more than $1 million to wolves in the past decade. “It’s probably going to break us,” he said.
Fish and Wildlife range riders began patrolling the Old Profanity Peak territory in April looking for wolves. The department trapped and put a GPS collar on a male wolf in early June. The collar helped the department locate the pack’s den and later its rendezvous site, where adult wolves stash pups.
The ranch delayed turning out calves until July 10, waiting for calves to grow larger. At the time, there was little sign of wolf activity on the allotment, according to Fish and Wildlife.
By mid-August, the male wolf’s movements suggested the pack had moved 5.5 miles and was now on the allotment.
Fish and Wildlife said it ramped up coordination between its range riders and the ranch to prevent attacks.
One calf carcass was found Aug. 20 and two on Aug. 26. In all three cases, only bones remained. There was no flesh left for the department to confirm that wolves killed the calves.
The producer and range riders on Tuesday were pushing cattle toward adjacent allotments, according to the department. About 20 head of cattle remained in what Fish and Wildlife called “high wolf-use area.”