By MATTHEW WEAVER
A northeast Washington cattle rancher says wolves killed a three-day-old calf from his operation last week.
Len McIrvin is owner of the Diamond M Ranch in Laurier, Wash. That's the ranch where Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife officials in September 2012 killed six wolves from the Wedge Pack. The wolves had killed at least 17 cattle from the ranch.
The killed calf was dragged from a barbed wire calving enclosure 200 yards from human presence, McIrvin said. There were fresh wolf tracks nearby in the river, he said.
"We know it was a wolf, but they can't confirm it because the calf was 95 percent eaten up," he said, noting coyote tracks were also found in the area.
Stephanie Simek, WDFW wildlife conflict section manager, said the case was unconfirmed as a wolf kill because there were signs of coyotes in the area. The six-strand barbed wire fence did not show signs of a larger carnivore entering the area, she said.
"The issue was the carcass was so far gone, you really couldn't get a lot of those measurements," said Dave Ware, WDFW game program manager. "You just couldn't tell for sure what killed it."
The department has been monitoring wolf activity, but didn't find anything that would merit setting a trap to try to collar wolves.
"We're certain there are wolves in the Wedge area again," Ware said. "We're seeing plenty of activity."
McIrvin said his cattle are on the range, so he hasn't found other kills or injuries.
"We know the wolves have been harassing them," he said. "We know they're there, we hear them howling, they've got the cows all chased off the range again. We put them back weekly, but the wolves are running them daily."
The Stevens County Cattlemen's Association believes the department's unconfirmed ruling on the calf shows a "troubling trend" in which the department does not confirm wolf kills, a determination that could lead to killing the predators.
Association spokesperson Jamie Henneman said WDFW needs to clearly outline how they will deal with wolves.
"Right now we are seeing the department buckle under pressure from environmental groups who have absolutely no skin in the game," she said. "There is no impact to their finances or livelihood if wolf management is done in a poor, watery or slipshod fashion. Band-aid payments of compensation will not solve this problem."
Ware believes the department's history proves it is willing to kill wolves, but said it will not always completely be on the same page as ranchers.
"Second-guessing what our field staff does seems to be a popular sport for both sides," he said. "In their hearts, most (ranchers) feel, 'Wolves are the things different from the landscape -- it must be wolves that caused this.' In some cases, we can verify that, in some cases, we just can't."
McIrvin says killing the wolves is the only solution. He believes the calf carcass should have been laced with poison to get the "culprits."
"Until somebody gets serious about opening season on these wolves, I don't know that there is any answer," he said.
Just as he did last year, McIrvin plans to continue to refuse compensation from the state.
"We are not in the business of raising cattle to feed wolves. We're in the business of raising cattle to be a cow ranch," he said.
Washington Department Fish and Wildlife:
Stevens County Cattlemen Association: