Wolf-wary ranchers fence in their cattle
WENATCHEE – Ross Hurd spent last week building fences on his family’s cattle ranch and then brought their cows home from the open range over the weekend.
Normally, the roughly 60 head of cattle and crop of spring calves would be roaming the 5,000-acre Hurd ranch south of Wenatchee until early May, when they are rounded up for branding.
Hurd and his brothers are being forced to make some changes after two wolves showed up last month.
“The state wants us to put fences around them and keep them there for awhile, so we’re doing it,” Hurd said Friday.
The Hurds have not seen any evidence of the wolves in nearly two weeks. But Ross Hurd said he and wildlife officials expect that they will be back.
“The biologist said that once they set their territory they will come back,” he said. “So we’re going to be prepared for them. Hopefully, we’ll have the cows out of their range in a protected area.”
“The game plan is that we make sure the cattle do not become wolf feed and, hopefully, when the deer and elk migrate up into the hills the wolves will follow them.”
Hurd said that if state wildlife biologists are able to get tracking collars on one or both of the wolves, then they can allow their cows to use open range but bring them in when state biologists tell them the wolves are getting close.
“It’s not easy to round them all up,” Hurd said. “But at least it’s a plan we can live with.”
The wolves were first spotted on the Hurd property about two weeks ago, when state wildlife officers went there to investigate a dead cow. Before that, remote cameras set up on the property captured images of two wolves scavenging an elk carcass.
Hurd said 14 deer, two bull elk and one pregnant cow died on his property within the span of a few weeks while the wolves were known to be there. Wildlife officers have not confirmed that the wolves killed any of the animals, but did say they scavenged the elk and cow after they died.
By Monday afternoon, he’d rounded up and fenced in the majority of the herd. Just one adult cow was still unaccounted for, he said. But they won’t know for another month whether there is any noticeable decline in the number of calves.
Hurd said his family has been ranching in the canyon for more than 100 years and this is the first time they’ve had to fence in cows because of predators. When they used to raise sheep, they penned them to protect against domestic dogs and coyotes, though.
“Wolves are going to be the hardest predator to deal with, I think,” he said. “We just don’t know what the outcome will be. But we’re trying to prepare for them being here the best we can.”