May 29, 2009

Canine tracks found near scene, but cow carcass was too old to determine actual cause of death

By Joyce Campbell

Federal and state wildlife officials say that while gray wolves may have been involved in the death of a cow near Twisp last week, proof will be difficult to obtain.

“By the time we got to the carcass it was too old for me to say yea or nay if it was killed by a wolf,” said Scott Fitkin, wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It was clearly fed on by something, but not much was left but a lot of maggots.” Fitkin and a USDA Wildlife Services agent inspected the carcass on Friday (May 22).

WDFW enforcement officer Cal Treser

WDFW enforcement officer Cal Treser

“How do we say wolves killed it without proof positive?” asked Cal Treser, state wildlife enforcement officer and the first agent to examine the carcass. He said that unless someone sees a wolf take down a cow it is hard to make a determination.

Treser responded on May 19 to a call from property owner Larry Richner at the Golden Doe Ranch, about five miles south of Twisp. A ranch hand had discovered the carcass of a full-grown cow and notified Richner. Richner could not be reached for comment by press time.

“If someone suspects wolf depredation, we need a call as fast as possible to make a determination,” said Treser. He said he saw tracks that could be wolves and said there was evidence that coyotes had been there, too. Cattle walking around in the area had destroyed lots of evidence.

The Golden Doe Ranch is within the home territory of the Lookout Pack, the first confirmed pack of gray wolves in the state in 70 years. It was unclear whether the cow carcass was found on private ranch land or adjacent land that Richner recently sold to the WDFW.

There is a protocol for responding to depredation complaints when a threatened or endangered species is reported or responsible for killing livestock, said Treser. He called Wildlife Services, who are the official lead on cases involving suspected predation by federally listed species.

Wildlife Services has not released a report on the investigation.

On May 5 Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a bill that will allow the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to pay compensation to all commercial producers of cattle, sheep and horses that have had livestock injured or killed by cougars, bears or wolves.

The Washington Cattlemen’s Association supported the compensation bill for five years before it was signed into law. Funding for the plan was not included, and the cattlemen’s organization has made funding the new legislation a top priority in future legislative sessions, according to a news release by the association.ˆ

The conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife offer a simple process for ranchers to receive compensation for confirmed incidents of livestock killed by gray wolves, according to Suzanne Stone, the organization’s Northern Rockies representative. Send a copy of the Wildlife Services report and contact information to Defenders of Wildlife, P.O. Box 773, Boise, ID 83701, or call Stone at (208) 424-9385 for more information.

Call U.S. Wildlife Services in Moses Lake with information about suspected livestock predation at (509) 754-8580.