Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
A northeast Washington cattlemen says he will pare down his herd and keep it off a Forest Service grazing allotment next year because of wolves.
Ferry County rancher Ron Eslick lost a calf to the Togo wolfpack in May. The pack has attacked at least three cattle belonging to another producer on a neighboring allotment this month. Eslick said Thursday he doesn’t know whether wolves have taken more of his cattle still out on the range, but the herd won’t stay at higher elevations and are skittish.
“The wolves do something to those cows,” he said. “I’m not even going to use the range (in 2019). I’m not going to pay to send cows out to be eaten. I’m not going to feed the wolves.”
Wolves, which have surpassed state recovery goals in northeast Washington, are affecting livestock operations, according to ranchers. Wolves have attacked cattle on public lands and private pastures and in different seasons.
Wolves will remain a state protected species until at least four packs have produced pups in the South Cascades. No wolf has been confirmed in the South Cascades.
Eslick, 71, has a permit to graze 40 cow-calf pairs in the Colville National Forest. His father had the permit in the 1950s, Eslick said.
He said he planned to reduce the herd to about 30 head and keep them closer to home.
“I haven’t got out of the business yet, but I’m going to cut back,” he said.
In addition to wolves, cougars have become a problem too, he said. Eslick said he recently sold his five sheep after a cougar killed two others.
Eslick said he believes predators are turning to livestock because other prey, such as deer, are becoming scarce.
“It’s going to get worse. It’s not going to get better. The writing’s on the wall,” he said.
Wolves got additional protection this week when a Thurston County judge blocked the Department of Fish and Wildlife from killing a Togo pack wolf. The temporary restraining order, in effect until at least Aug. 31 and maybe indefinitely, shelves using lethal removal as a last resort to stop depredations.
The order applies to only the Togo pack. The arguments, however, against killing the pack’s male would apply to any pack.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands, which sought the restraining order, are suing Fish and Wildlife, contending its policy on culling wolfpacks didn’t undergo proper review and violates the state’s Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.
Fish and Wildlife consulted with its Wolf Advisory Group in writing the lethal-removal protocol. Conservation Northwest, an environmental organization represented on the advisory group, criticized the lawsuit in a statement Thursday.
“Lawsuits and polarization haven’t worked out well for wolves elsewhere, so we see little upside in spreading those tactics to Washington, where wolf recovery is going relatively well overall,” Conservation Northwest Executive Director Mitch Friedman said.