Southeast Washington ranchers warn of increasing wolf conflicts

Washington Cattlemen's Association President Tyler Cox, right, walks with Farm Bureau associate director of government relations Mark Streuli on Jan. 23 on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. Cox told a House committee that wolves are a growing problem for ranchers in southeast Washington.

OLYMPIA — Southeast Washington ranchers told state lawmakers Tuesday that they have problems with wolves, too.

Cattleman Sam Ledgerwood, who ranches in Asotin and Garfield counties, said wolves attacked a cow and calf this summer, a first for his operation. He said that he’s heard from northeast ranchers to brace for depredations to get worse.

“We are dealing directly with wolves — the financial burden of that ... and the safety of it,” Ledgerwood told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. “Having our family work with us in a stressful and dangerous situation is always a concern of any father, for sure.”

The committee heard from the Washington Cattlemen’s Association about industry issues, including wolves. The association’s president, Walla Walla rancher Tyler Cox, thanked legislators for passing a Hirst bill to reopen rural Washington to new wells. “That was on top of our list,” he said, before moving turning to issues he called “perennial favorites.”

“Wolves will be a perennial favorite,” he said.

There is no bill advancing in the Legislature to alter the state’s wolf policies.

Wolves are on the state’s protected-species list, though WDFW culls packs to stop chronic attacks on livestock. The department has resorted to killing wolves several times in northeast Washington, but never in southeast Washington. Attacks on livestock there have not reached the threshold for WDFW to consider lethal removal.

Nevertheless, southeast Washington ranchers said the predators are affecting their operations in an area where the Department of Fish and Wildlife has so far documented relatively few wolves.

Most Washington wolves roam in 17 packs in four northeast counties, according to WDFW. Southeast Washington has two documented packs. The Tucannon pack had four members and the Touchet pack had two members as of the end of 2016, the last official count by WDFW. By comparison, the Dirty Shirt pack alone, then the state’s largest, had 13 wolves in Stevens County.

Southeast Washington, however, borders northeast Oregon. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife counted 16 known wolf territories in the region at the end of 2016.

“We’re sharing wolves with Oregon,” Cox said. “It’s on the rise. We’re getting more attention from the game department.”

WDFW reported last summer that it had agreements with 16 ranchers in the Blue Mountains to share the costs of using non-lethal measures to stop wolves from attacking livestock.

WDFW confirmed that wolves attacked Ledgerwood’s cattle. He said he’s employed range riders and other non-lethal measures. “I’m absolutely concerned for the safety of the crew,” he said.

Wolves in the eastern one-third of Washington are not on the federal endangered or threatened species list. Wolves are numerous enough in the eastern one-third of Washington to meet the state’s population goals. Under the current policy, wolves will remain a state-protected species until they at least colonize the Cascades.

WDFW projects that could happen as early as 2021 and has indicated it has started thinking about how to manage wolves after that.

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