June 10, 2009

Cattlemen must take measures to limit conflict

By Joyce Campbell

Cattle and wolves are home on the range together in Okanogan County where ranchers and federal agencies have agreed to new conservation measures to reduce risks to livestock without adversely affecting the wolves.

Ranchers have turned out cattle on Forest Service grazing allotments in an area near Twisp where the state’s first gray wolf pack in 70 years is known to be denning.

Managers with the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed and added eight conservation measures to three grazing allotment operating agreements on the Methow Valley Ranger District, according to a news release from the agencies on Monday (June 8). The measures are intended to reduce the potential for conflict between cattle and the Lookout Pack.

Ranchers agreed to the new conservation measures, which included “prohibiting human disturbance at den sites, removing injured livestock and delaying release of calves until they are larger and natural prey are more plentiful.” Dead livestock would be removed, destroyed by explosives or electrically  fenced off if they would attract wolves to a potential conflict situation.

According to the new agreements, “In the event of depredation, wolf control actions… would not result in an adverse effect to the wolves. Cattle may be moved to another unit or another allotment.”

The Lookout Pack is known to be denning on the Libby allotment, where they raised six pups last year. Forest Service staff using radio-telemetry and ground tracking determined that the family of wolves was reduced to between three and five members by this spring, possibly due to natural dispersal, according to district biologist John Rohrer. Lone wolf sightings have increased recently in other parts of the valley, said Rohrer.

Poaching may also have reduced the pack. Evidence of poaching of two gray wolves allegedly by two Twisp-area ranchers is still under investigation by federal agents. No charges have been filed in the case, according to U.S. Attorney Tom Rice.

Researchers have been monitoring the wolves they named the Lookout Pack after capturing and radio-collaring a pair of adult wolves near Twisp in 2008. DNA analysis indicated that the pack is most closely related to British Columbia’s wolf populations.

The wolves have been tracked in the low elevation areas of the Libby, Poorman and Newby Creek grazing allotments as well as the higher elevations of the Twisp River Valley and the Chelan-Sawtooth Ridge.

“The wolves co-existed with cattle throughout the summer and there is no record of stock depredation by this pack,” according to the news release. If livestock depredation by a wolf should be confirmed, the conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife offers compensation to grazing permittees.

Wolves have been a federally- listed endangered species since 1974 and it is unlawful to kill or harass them.

For a guide to non-lethal tools and methods to reduce conflicts among livestock and wolves visit www.defenders.org/resources/publications/index.php.