Washington ranchers increase reward for cow shooters

The remains of a calf lie Sept. 6, 2016, on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment in Ferry County, Wash. Investigators concluded the calf was shot to death before scavengers got to the carcass. The Stevens County Cattlemen's Association is offering a $15,000 reward for tips leading to a conviction for shooting cattle in Stevens and Ferry counties.

A reward offered by a cattlemen’s group for tips leading to a conviction for shooting cattle in Stevens and Ferry counties has been increased to $15,000.

Ranchers say shooting cattle is on the upswing. They suspect it’s fallout over the conflicts with wolves.

A Western Washington man, who wants to remain anonymous, contributed $10,000 to the reward fund, Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Justin Hedrick said Monday.

The contribution, combined with other donations, allowed the cattlemen’s association to increase its standing reward from $2,500. The association will pay a maximum of $15,000 a year for tips that lead to a conviction.

Hedrick said he hoped the bigger reward will draw out useful information. “At $2,500, we never got any bites,” he said.

Hedrick, a partner in the family-owned Diamond M Ranch, estimated that about 50 cows have been shot on private and public lands in the two counties during the past five years. Previously, it was a more rare occurrence, he said.

“Through the years we’ve always had some, but not like it’s been the last five years,” Hedrick said. “I’m going to speculate that it’s wolf-related.”

Hedrick said a dozen of the ranch’s cattle were shot in one recent year. One was butchered for the meat, he said, while the others were not.

The cows were commonly shot in the stomach with small-caliber firearms, Hedrick said. “It’s a very slow, cruel, miserable death.”

In some cases, animals have scavenged the remains of cattle, but in the most recent case Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife investigators ruled out predators and found evidence that the cow had been shot.

In one case from last summer in Ferry County, a cow was shot in the shoulder, rolled down a hill and died, according to a department report.

The department has not reported cow-shooting incidents in its periodic public reports on what it calls “key wolf activities.”

Cattle Producers of Washington President Scott Nielsen, a Stevens County rancher, said the shooting of cattle has been under-publicized by the department.

“We have had cows shot up here, and I can tell you we believe it’s related to the wolf issue,” he said. “I don’t think (Fish and Wildlife) want the story being told about what’s happening out there.”

Efforts to reach the department to comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

According to the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association, tipsters can call the association at (509) 680-3497 or the sheriff offices of Ferry or Stevens counties.

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