Northeastern Washington wolf

A northeastern Washington state wolf in a photo taken by a trail camera. State wildlife officials have determined that a rancher was justified in killing a wolf as it headed toward three calves that were in a fenced area.

An Okanogan County rancher who shot and killed a wolf as it approached three newborn calves was promptly cleared by Washington Fish and Wildlife investigators, according to records released Tuesday.

The rancher shot the young male wolf the morning of April 29. The reports, released in response to a records request by the Capital Press, were redacted to withhold the names of the rancher and investigators, as well as the exact location.

The shooting occurred east of Highway 97, where wolves are not federally protected, but are a state protected species. The unjustified killing of a state endangered animal is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

“I could tell (the rancher) was very tense, and I assured (him) that we were present to document what had occurred, and we were there to advocate for his personal and property rights as much as the rights of wildlife,” according to one investigator’s report.

Another investigator noted that only five days earlier, Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind had issued a memo directing department employees to “maintain public safety as a priority.”

The investigator said he “wanted to make prompt decisions to alleviate any fear the family had.”

“I informed (the rancher and his wife) that it was a justified act and did not want them to stress about a delayed finding or decision,” he wrote.

Washington law allows livestock owners to kill without a permit one wolf that is attacking their domestic animals. The law does not apply to the western two-thirds of Washington, where wolves are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.

The rancher told investigators he was home with two young children when he saw an animal near the house moving toward the fenced pasture between 8 and 9 a.m.

Three calves born the night before were near the fence. The rancher said he keeps newborn calves in the pasture closest to his house to protect them from predators.

The rancher said he wasn’t sure whether it was a wolf or coyote and yelled to scare it away. The animal continued toward the pasture. The rancher fired the only round in his rifle.

The bullet went over one cow, the rancher said. An investigator noted the bullet also would have passed a children’s jungle gym in the backyard.

Investigators found an entrance wound near the wolf’s heart and lungs.

The distance from the home’s back porch to the carcass was approximately 280 yards, according to measurements taken by the Fish and Wildlife investigators. The carcass was 56 yards from the pasture’s fence.

“Once in with the cattle, it may be difficult to shoot the animal actively attacking a calf,” one investigator wrote. “No charges were filed against the RP. Case closed.”

Fish and Wildlife investigators noted that the family had reported wolves around their ranch last fall and photographed one with a trail camera. A driver delivering a package reported seeing two pups on the property last fall.

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