dead calf

A Hereford calf in Ferry County, Wash., killed by a wolf.

Washington Fish and Wildlife officials concede that they likely undercount depredations by wolves, but say the high standard is necessary to maintain scientific integrity and legal certainty.

Even if tracks, scat, radio collars, signs of a struggle and chronic attacks point to wolf packs, department investigators look for hemorrhaging on a dead or an injured animal before confirming a depredation.

In some cases, the cause of injuries is unclear, wounds have started to heal or scavengers beat investigators to the carcass.

“There are livestock killed by wolves that there is not enough evidence for the department to confirm,” statewide wolf coordinator Julia Smith told the department’s Wolf Advisory Group on July 7.

“There’s a full acknowledgement that wolves may kill livestock that the department can’t account for,” she said.

Southeast Washington rancher Samee Charriere, a member of the advisory group, brought up depredation investigations. Confirmed attacks don’t accurately reflect cattle losses, she said.

“The percent loss here was next to none, and now that we have wolves, it is very high,” she said. “Those things have to come in to play a little bit, like some commonsense has to come into play, and it doesn’t — at all.”

Wolves scavenge carcasses so even witnessing wolves feeding on an animal doesn’t prove they killed it, Fish and Wildlife biologist Trent Roussin said.

“If there is no hemorrhaging, it’s essentially impossible for us to say that wolves killed that animal, particularly given that we know how frequently wolves scavenge,” he said.

If Fish and Wildlife tallies three attacks by a pack in 30 days or four attacks in 10 months, it will consider shooting a wolf or two to curb the depredations. The department usually doesn’t initiate lethal removal until there are more than three or four confirmed attacks.

Before killing wolves, the department gives wolf advocates one day to seek a restraining order in court. Fish and Wildlife attorneys have had to defend the decision in courtrooms far removed from where ranchers are losing animals.

“When we go to confirmed, we do need to see that evidence, it needs to be beyond a reasonable doubt — that that cow or sheep was killed by a wolf,” Roussin said.

Advisory group member Dave Duncan, a Kittitas County cattleman, said ranchers are frustrated.

“The present system definitely breeds a lot of hate and contempt and distrust of the department. Now whether there could be a better system or not, I’m not sure,” Duncan said.

Good science requires Fish and Wildlife to reserve judgment unless the evidence is clear, Smith said.

“We fully acknowledge that wolves have effects that we can’t necessarily document well or account for,” she said.

Fish and Wildlife classifies some attacks as “probable” depredations, though more investigations either confirm attacks or are closed as unknown.

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