Washington state wildlife officials said they’re willing to train Stevens County sheriff’s deputies on how to identify livestock that has been killed by wolves.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers will be the lead investigators but additional trained eyes at the scene can only help, said Bruce Bjork, the agency’s chief of enforcement.
“We’ll certainly take whatever assistance we can get from the county, whether that’s initial response when a call comes in to assistance at the scene,” he said. “We’re going to try to work as jointly as possible with the counties.”
Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen has proposed forming his own investigative team for livestock predation. He’s basing the concept on Wallowa County, Ore., where sheriff’s deputies investigate suspected wolf kills alongside state wildlife officials.
The Wallowa County sheriff’s department got involved because local ranchers distrusted Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife agents, Allen said.
In Wallowa County, “the sheriff is used like a second opinion, and that’s what we’re looking at here,” he said. “If we do have a suspected wolf kill, we’ll have deputies trained to go out and look at remains, the tracks and investigate it.”
Allen said a county investigation team would uphold “the rights of our local cattlemen and property owners … and if they have some type of restitution coming, make sure they have every chance of collecting it.”
Washington has had only one confirmed wolf killing of livestock – the 2007 death of a calf near Laurier, a community in northern Stevens County. But Northeast Washington is home to three known wolf packs – the largest concentration in the state.
At a recent Washington Cattlemen’s meeting in Colville, several ranchers said they had lost cattle on their Forest Service grazing allotments and suspected wolves as the culprits. Ranchers can be compensated for livestock killed by wolves. But under state law, the Department of Fish and Wildlife must first confirm a wolf kill.
An animal’s cause of death isn’t always obvious, which is why forensic training is necessary, said Nate Pamplin, assistant director for WDFW’s wildlife program.
Last August, wolves were suspected in the killing of a sheep on a Forest Service allotment within the home-range of Central Washington’s Teanaway pack. But an investigation later determined that the sheep was killed by a cougar before being scavenged by wolves.
“It really requires that an individual has experience looking at different carcasses and at different biological factors,” Pamplin said. “Is there hemorrhaging that would indicate the animal was killed by a predator? Or was it just bite marks on a dead carcass?”
Several dozen WDFW law enforcement officers and biologists have been trained to assess livestock carcasses. In March, they’ll get a refresher course from a former USDA Wildlife Services agent who’s a national expert on predation, Pamplin said.
In Stevens County, heavily forested grazing areas prevent ranchers from finding wolf kills, said Don Dashiell, a county commissioner and rancher. The only evidence that livestock owners might have is fewer cows. “You’re never able to find the carcasses and bones,” Dashiell said.
He’d like to see ranch records on livestock losses accepted as criteria for compensation.
State officials acknowledged that some livestock carcasses won’t be found, so they offered one of the West’s most liberal compensation packages, Pamplin said. On large ranches, livestock owners will receive twice the animal’s value for each confirmed wolf kill. Under state statute, cows and horses are valued at $1,500 each. Sheep are valued $200.
“We’re trying to account for the unknown factor, that maybe other (livestock) losses could be attributed to wolves,” Pamplin said.