Rancher put cattle on National Forest land already occupied by wolf pack
SPOKANE, Washington––Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife agents may at this writing have already killed the last of the five adult gray wolves and six pups who in early August 2016 formed the Profanity Peak pack, in the Colville National Forest near the U.S./Canada border, between Republic and Kettle Falls, just west of Idaho.
Going into the last weekend of August 2016, six wolves, including the pack matriarch, had already been killed for having harmed about a dozen cattle on two Colville National Forest grazing allotments held by Diamond M Ranch owners Len McIrvin, his son Bill McIrvin, and his nephew Justin Hedrick.
The McIrvins and Hedrick reportedly pasture about 400 cow/calf pairs, about 800 cattle in all, on leased federal land that the Diamond M Ranch has used since 1943.
“If state doesn’t kill them, the sheriff will”
The five wolves remaining in the Profanity Peak pack were on August 20, 2016 slated to be shot by state wildlife agents, under pressure of a resolution passed by the Ferry County board of commissioners authorizing county sheriff’s deputies to kill the wolves if the state does not.
From a conservation perspective, each of the estimated 90 gray wolves now inhabiting eastern Washington––and each of the estimated 1,700 gray wolves in the U.S. nationwide––have inestimably more value than any of the four million cattle on federally leased grazing land, occupied for grazing fees set by law at just a fraction of full market value.
4.4 livestock = life of a wolf
Real-life numbers, though, show some very different equivalencies.
For example, the 321 gray wolves killed for preying on cattle and sheep by USDA Wildlife Services in 2014 among them killed 1,415 livestock animals, meaning that the lives of 4.4 cattle and sheep were on average deemed to be worth the life of a wolf.
7.9 animals = life of a pit bull
By comparison, only 38 of the first 300 pit bulls to kill other animals in the U.S. in 2016 in cases reported by news media were either killed at the scene or were confirmed to have been killed after impoundment. This would indicate that each pit bull is considered worth the lives of 7.9 other animals, at least in the estimation of animal control agencies––or almost twice the value of a gray wolf, even though there are more than 2,000 times as many pit bulls in the U.S. than gray wolves
From a cost/benefit perspective, each wild wolf has been estimated by University of Montana resource economists to be worth about $250,000 in taxpayer investment and economic benefits to tourism. Cattle raised for beef on leased grazing land by comparison have an average market value of about $1,400.
From an animal rights perspective, the lives of wolves and cattle might be considered to have equivalent moral value.
But calculations of moral value have no place in the reckoning of ranchers that wolf predation costs them money they would otherwise collect for selling cattle to slaughter.
Neither does moral value figure into the reckoning of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and other government agencies that politically influential ranchers must be appeased.
Defenders of Wildlife
Moral value is not even a part of the assessments of advocacy organizations including Defenders of Wildlife and Conservation Northwest that killing wolves who harm lifestock is an inescapable part of the price for allowing wolves to reclaim parts of their historical range, almost a century after ranchers and government agents working on behalf of ranches hunted them out.
Explained Death at SeaWorld author David Kirby in a syndicated summary of the Profanity Peak situation, “Last May, the Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group, comprised of state officials, cattle ranchers, hunters, and conservationists, devised a new protocol allowing for the ‘removal’ of wolves,” meaning killing, “if cattle depredations reach a certain threshold.
“Among the conservation groups approving the protocol was Defenders of Wildlife.”
Said Shawn Cantrell, northwest director for Defenders of Wildlife, “We have met and significantly exceeded that threshold. This is for us very sad and disappointing, because we really hate to see any cows or any animals killed, [but] we do support the department moving forward at this time.”
Agreed Conservation Northwest, “Though it’s tremendously difficult to see wolves killed, we understand and accept this action as a necessary component of coexistence where people, wolves and livestock share territory.”
But the Profanity Peak case involved a bit more than just people, wolves, and livestock sharing territory. It might more accurately be described as an instance of people refusing to share territory with wolves.
Wolves entered Washington from Idaho in 2008, 13 years after wolf restoration in the northern Rockies began. Four years later, in 2012, wolves from the Wedge pack, occupying territory east of Profanity Peak, killed or injured 17 cattle belonging to Len McIrvin and family.
“The state subsequently killed seven wolves from that pack,” recalled Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review in 2014.
By that time the McIrvins were already clamoring against the presence of both the Wedge and Profanity Peak packs.
“Put livestock on den”
But Robert Wielgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University, told Seattle Times environment reporter Lynda V. Mapes that the McIrvins were not cooperative with nonlethal predation prevention efforts.
Wielgus “has radio-collared 700 cattle and dozens of wolves, including animals in the Profanity Peak pack, as part of his ongoing study of conflicts between wolves and livestock in Washington,” Mapes explained. “He also camera-monitors the Profanity Peak pack’s den.”
Said Wielgus, “This livestock operator elected to put his livestock directly on top of their den site; we have pictures of cows swamping it.”
“Refused to radio-collar”
Wrote Mapes, “The cattle pushed out the wolves’ native prey of deer, and with a den full of young to feed, what came next was predictable, Wielgus said.
“After the wolves repeatedly killed McIrvin’s cattle, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, as per its protocol, authorized shooting wolves in the pack by helicopter, killing the pack’s breeding female by mistake. The department then stopped the killings after the wolf predations subsided.
“McIrvin has refused to radio-collar his cattle to help predict and avoid interactions with radio-collared wolves, Wielgus said.
Logging trucks, fire, & lightning
“By contrast,” Mapes wrote, “Wielgus has documented no cattle kills among producers who are participating in his research studies and very few among producers using Fish & Wildlife’s protocol.”
According to Wielgus, “In Washington, more cattle are killed by logging trucks, fire and lightning than wolves.”
WSU disputes Wielgus’ claims
Washington State University and the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, & Natural Resources Sciences on August 31, 2016 responded that “In actuality, the livestock [the Profanity Peak wolves were shot to protect] were released at low elevation on the east side of the Kettle Crest more than four miles from the den site, and dispersed throughout the [leased grazing] allotments” afterward.
The Washington State University statement also said “There is at least one [grazing] permittee who is participating in the [Wielgus] study who has incurred livestock depredations.”
But the primary concern of the Washington State University statement appeared to be that controversy over the Profanity Peak wolf pack massacre “jeopardized the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf Advisory Group’s many-months long stakeholder process” and challenged the primacy in wolf-related decision-making of the state Wolf Advisory Group, “consisting of a collaboration between scientists, industry, and conservation partners,” according to the statement.
Killing wolves increases predation
Wielgus in December 2014 reported in the peer-reviewed online science journal PLOS One that for every wolf killed in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming over the preceding 25 years, a 5% rise followed a year later in the numbers of sheep and cattle killed by wolves.
“Livestock kills only started going down after overall wolf numbers were reduced by more than 25%,” summarized Jeff Barnard of Associated Press.
“The reason,” Barnard wrote, “appears to be that killing the alpha male or female [in a pack] frees the other wolves to start breeding. That produces more breeding pairs. And breeding pairs trying to feed pups are more likely to kill livestock than individual wolves.”
“What about protecting wolves from livestock?”
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife wolf policy leader Donny Martorello told media that, “The department is committed to wolf recovery, but we also have a shared responsibility to protect livestock from repeated depredation by wolves.”
Responded ecologist George Wuerthner, “What about protecting wolves from repeated depredations by livestock? What about preserving the ecological role of large predators on our public lands?
“The typical reaction of state wildlife agencies to any predator conflicts is to remove the predators, rather than remove the livestock,” Wuerthner wrote in an op-ed column appearing in a variety of media. “However, grazing on public lands is a privilege, not a right,” and is contingent,” Wuerthner said, “upon livestock production not harming other public values.
“Permanently close grazing allotments”
“A long-term solution to conflicts between private business interests and the public interest in preserving wildlife,” Wuerthner recommended, “can be accomplished through permit retirement. Permanently closing allotments precludes future conflicts forever and provides ranchers with a golden saddle. They can use the money to retire, or buy additional private lands.”
Agreed former U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service wolf specialist Carter Niemeyer, who before his retirement in 2006 led the effort to reintroduce wolves into Idaho, “Public lands have to be managed differently. Those lands belong to all of us,” Niemeyer told Mapes, “and so do the native wildlife.”
Said Predator Defense executive director and wildlife film maker Brooks Fahy, “It’s high time the public and politicians say: “Enough! Get your livestock off our lands!”