Courtesy of John Danielson
A trail camera near the summit of Loup Loup pass captured a photo in late January 2016 of a Loup Loup pack wolf rolling in the snow.

rts to focus on non-lethal deterrence

By Ann McCreary

Vic Stokes, who raises cattle on a family ranch southwest of Twisp, figures wolves are here to stay in this part of Washington, but that doesn’t mean he likes it.

“I’m not too unlike the rest of the cattlemen … it’s frustrating to see a large predator that’s so well protected come into the area. We’re just trying to make an adjustment,” said Stokes, a fourth-generation rancher.

“The future says we’re going to have wolves, that’s the way the laws direct, as much as ranchers want to resist this,” he added.

Stokes was recently awarded a grant intended to help him protect his cattle from possible predation by wolves. The Northeast Washington Wolf-Livestock Grant Board provided $11,242 to help Stokes install a fence to provide a safe area during calving season.

Craig Boesel, another Methow Valley rancher, also received one of five grants awarded by the Wolf-Livestock Board. Like Stokes, Boesel will use most of a $40,265 grant to fence calving areas on his Bear Creek ranch. He plans to use a portion of the funding for a range rider during the 2018 and 2019 summer grazing season.

The Wolf-Livestock Grant Board was established last year by the Washington State Department of Agriculture to distribute $300,000 allocated by the state Legislature for the 2017-2019 biennium. The funding is intended to create a “community-based approach to provide assistance for projects related to non-lethal methods of deterring wolves from livestock in Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties,” according to the Department of Agriculture. The grants are available to individuals and non-profit organizations.

The Methow Valley is home to two gray wolf packs. The Lookout pack, named for Lookout Mountain southeast of Twisp, was confirmed in 2008 as Washington’s first known wolf pack in more than 70 years. The pack once had as many as 10 animals but was decimated by poaching, and state wildlife officials believe there are now two or three wolves in the Lookout territory, although it is unclear if there is a breeding pair.

Close to calves

The Loup Loup pack, named for its territory around Loup Loup Summit, was confirmed as a pack in 2015. State wildlife officials estimate there are as many as eight wolves in the pack, and have placed tracking collars on the breeding male and female

“In the last 12 months, the tracking devices for the Loup Loup wolf pack have shown the pack to be within one-and-a-half miles of my fall-calving areas, in the Methow Valley’s Bear Creek area,” Boesel said in his funding proposal.

“In the Methow Valley, ranchers are fortunate that resident wolf packs have not yet developed the habit of preying on bovines, as have packs in other regions of the state,” he said.

“For the sake of local ranchers and wolves alike, it is crucial that we do what we can to prevent our resident packs from learning this behavior. Reducing the opportunity for wolves to prey on young calves is critical to preventing wolves from developing a taste for bovines,” Boesel said.

Boesel and Stokes are able to follow the movements of the collared Loup Loup pack wolves through an arrangement with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Data from the tracking collars show it’s not unusual for the wolves to travel 20-60 miles in a day, and they have come within a couple miles of his herd, Stokes said.

Stokes’ cows begin calving in January and continue into March. “Because of winter conditions, the cattle are concentrated in a relatively small area. Calving areas attract predators because of the presence of placental afterbirths and vulnerable newborns,” he said.

“I have not personally seen a wolf yet, but I know people who have seen wolves in the area,” Stokes said. “I can’t be out there 24/7 with the cattle during calving.” In dealing with a species that is protected under state and federal law, “we have to rely on a suite of non-lethal approaches … we are trying to be proactive.”

Fencing plans

With the state grant, Stokes will fence several acres on his ranch with 8-foot-tall orchard fence. Stokes, who is still working to rebuild miles of fence on his ranch that were destroyed in the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire, will use the grant money to hire a contractor to install the fence by fall, to protect his herd during calving season next winter.

He also plans to stack his hay inside the orchard fence enclosure, in an area that is protected from his cows and off-limits to the deer that come and eat it now. Deterring the deer from coming to the haystack will also deter predators that follow the deer, he said. “It’s the duality of this predator fence,” Stokes said.

Boesel, who comes from a longtime Methow Valley ranching family and has raised cattle on Bear Creek since 1972, plans to install permanent, woven-wire fence about 4 feet high around three fall calving areas. He plans to hire a fencing contractor to install the fences by mid-September, before fall calving begins.

The fence design would allow for the addition of an electrified wire at the top “under possible conditions of higher predation,” or around the outside to prevent wolves or coyotes from entering beneath the fence. “Secure fencing around the calving areas is an important tool for sanitation on any ranch,” Boesel said. “By preventing predators from finding the afterbirth or still-born calves, [ranchers] can prevent the development of a learned preference for bovines.”

The fencing would not only keep predators out but would also prevent calves from leaving the enclosure and finding themselves alone and without the protection of the herd. The fenced areas would also provide a place to bring sick or injured cattle off the range and give them a safe haven while they are brought back to health, Boesel said.

Boesel also proposed using some funding for range riding during the summer grazing season in 2018 and 2019. He said he has participated in range-riding programs for the past two summers.

“While the effectiveness of range riding is often difficult to measure — if it’s successful, you’ll never know — it is my intuition that range riding is a valuable method for pre-empting livestock-predator conflicts,” he said.

Okanogan County ranchers may also benefit from another grant awarded by the Wolf-Livestock Board to a new nonprofit organization called the Northeast Washington Wolf-Cattle Collaborative. Created last year, the Wolf-Cattle Collaborative was awarded $183,493 to provide a team of range riders, and herd monitors using various methods, to assist ranchers in Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.

There are 15 or more wolf packs in the four Northeast Washington counties, and the population is growing at about 30 percent per year, based on the WDFW’s most recent wolf survey, the Wolf-Cattle Collaborative noted in its funding proposal.

“Depredation events are socially disruptive, they can make the press, cause lawsuits, personal threats and potentially can increase wolf poaching,” the Wolf-Cattle Collaborative said. The organization wants to work to reduce wolf-cattle conflicts, and the resulting societal conflicts, said Jay Shepard, a member of the Wolf-Cattle Collaborative’s board of directors, and a former WDFW wildlife conflict specialist.

Human presence is the most effective, non-lethal approach for reducing livestock depredations by wolves, Shepard said. Human presence can include horseback riders or people in vehicles or on ATVs, he said. The Collaborative wants to work with ranchers with herds on private or public grazing lands where wolf depredation is a concern.

Predator deterrence

Shepard said the Wolf-Cattle Collaborative wants to work with ranchers who are willing and supportive of the range rider program, he said. “We don’t want to step on toes,” he said. Providing range riders or herd monitors “can assist ranchers with wolf deterrence and detection so that ranch families can get on with their long chore list and return to a more normal operation.”

The Wolf-Cattle Collaborative proposes to create “toolkits” with predator deterrence equipment, such as flagged or electric fencing and hazing devices like spotlights and air horns, that would be available to area ranchers.

The group also wants to share information with Northeast Washington ranchers about ongoing research into wolf-cattle interactions, and about deterrence strategies that have succeeded in other areas, such as Montana, Shepard said.

“There is also a need to bridge and reduce the cultural divide in this state … to make coexistence between ranching and wolves as balanced and uncontentious as possible,” Shepard said.

“I don’t think any amount of effort is going to stop depredation 100 percent,” he said. “As the local ranching community takes more ownership and perceives a path forward with non-lethal methods, other factions in the wolf debate may find the subsequent, necessary use of lethal removal unfortunate, but will be more accepting of it.”

Wolves are protected as an endangered species under state law throughout Washington, and under federal law in the western two-thirds of the state, which includes the Methow Valley. The state Wolf Management Plan provides criteria for wolf recovery along with guidelines for the use of lethal measures to prevent attacks on livestock.