A Washington rancher who killed a wolf in October told investigators that he thought he might have been shooting a dog, according to a Department of Fish and Wildlife report.
The rancher found the carcass, realized it was a wolf and called authorities. WDFW investigators concluded the shooting was justified because the wolf, an adult female, was chasing a calf.
The shooting, Oct. 27 near the Canadian border in Ferry County, was Washington’s second case of a rancher lawfully killing a wolf under the state’s “caught-in-the-act” law.
WDFW released a redacted copy of the investigative report in response to a public records request from the Capital Press. The name of the ranchers, a man and woman, were withheld by the department and were referred to in the report as “Producer M” and “Producer F.”
The shooting was not an isolated event in northern Ferry County as ranchers moved cattle from public grazing grounds to private pastures in the fall. Within two weeks of the shooting, at least two other calves were attacked by wolves fewer than 3 miles away.
The shooting and depredations occurred outside the range of any documented pack, according to WDFW. Ferry County rancher Arron Scotten, whose cattle were not involved in the incidents, said there had been signs of wolves in the area that fall.
“I think it was all one group that was there,” said Scotten, who was contracted by WDFW as a range rider to look for wolves and patrol around cattle.
“You ended up with (pack) members right there and cattle right there,” he said. “I’m not sure what really could have been done differently.”
The shooting occurred in the late afternoon as the man and woman were hauling cattle from a grazing allotment to a large fenced pasture. The woman told an investigator that she saw what she thought was a bear chasing a calf in the pasture.
Since she had a tag to harvest a bear, the woman aimed a rifle, looked through the scope, saw it wasn’t a bear and handed the gun to the man, who saw a dark-colored canine and shot, according to the report.
The animal went down, got up, veered from the calf and tumbled downhill. “Producer M said they had been seeing a large black/brown domestic dog running loose in the area recently, and they thought it might have been that dog as it looked similar to it from their location,” the WDFW report states.
The ranchers did not find any dead or injured cattle. The cattle were bunched near the pasture’s entrance. WDFW investigators said the wolf was shot once and that the evidence at the scene matched the ranchers’ description of events.
A separate livestock producer in the area reported an injured calf Nov. 2. Another calf was found dead Nov. 8. Scotten said range-rider patrols, particularly at night, were increased.
WDFW also ruled that a ranch employee was justified in shooting a wolf June 30 in Stevens County.
Washington law allows shooting one wolf attacking livestock. The law applies in the eastern one-third of Washington, where wolves are not federally protected. Under state law, illegally shooting a wolf is a gross misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.