“…When Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is killing wolves, that’s when we see a rise in cows being shot…”
By Sue-Lani Madsen
Reward offer shows ranchers’ frustration with wolf issue
Someone has been shooting cows from the road in Stevens County, according to the Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association.
But the cattlemen’s shooting charge is hard to prove, and there’s no conclusive evidence it has happened. Small-caliber weapons don’t kill immediately, and entrance and exit wounds may be camouflaged by bloating. Social media posts have been reported that call for killing cows, but there’s nothing solid enough to follow up. The circumstantial evidence leaves the ranchers frustrated.
Hoping to find something more concrete, they’re offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to a conviction will prompt phone calls to either the Stevens County or Ferry County Sheriff’s office.
The cattlemen have been advertising a more modest reward since 2012, when they say the rise in unexplained cattle deaths started.
“We originally created the reward to raise awareness,” said Scott Nielsen, SCCA president.
A major donation from an anonymous Western Washington supporter in 2018 bumped up the payoff. The group is still waiting for a nibble on the $15,000 reward money.
Nielsen said the frequency of recently healthy cows found dead in roadside pastures increases when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is practicing lethal removal.
Per protocols developed by the Wolf Advisory Group, wolves in Northeast Washington can be targeted when a pack becomes habituated to a free range beef diet.
Stevens County Sheriff Brad Manke welcomes the reward to assist the work of his office. Poaching livestock comes under his jurisdiction. Manke said there was a large-scale incident of deceased cattle this spring. His officers were unable to definitively determine a precise cause of death but could not rule out shots from the roadway by a small-caliber firearm.
Despite the uncertainty, Nielsen strongly believes there’s a connection.
“When WDFW is killing wolves, that’s when we see a rise in cows being shot,” he said.
Poaching wolves is Fish and Wildlife’s jurisdiction. The Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation Northwest offer a $10,000 reward for information leading to conviction for illegally killing a wolf. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is the lead agency and focused on wildlife. Local law enforcement is responsible for public safety.
Shooting in self-defense or in defense of pets or livestock is not illegal.
“When WDFW approaches a scene where a person or domestic animals have been threatened, their first response is often to blame the person for not doing enough to avoid an attack,” Nielsen said. “This is a problem, especially as predators in the area are becoming more aggressive.”
So whom do you call when you chase off a cougar stalking your dog or a wolf circling your horse?
The SCCA recently partnered with the Northeastern Washington Wildlife Management Group, a Deer Park-based nonprofit promoting hunting, conservation and recreation. They paid for a billboard to raise public awareness of the growing potential for predator-human conflicts in Northeast Washington. It features a cougar and wolf looming over U.S. Highway 395 between Colville and Kettle Falls with the message “Predator attack? Fight back! Call your local sheriff!” and lists the numbers for the Ferry County and Stevens County offices.
“As the sheriff, I absolutely want to know if we have a dangerous wildlife encounter. I don’t care if we’re called first or second,” Manke said.
He’s fine with being the intake agency for every call, noting they will immediately contact WDFW.
“We are contracted to dispatch for WDFW in Northeast Washington,” he said.
He stressed his officers have good working relationships with the WDFW enforcement officers in Stevens County.
“Officers will back each other up without fail,” he said.
Staci Lehman, WDFW communications manager for Eastern Washington, forwarded an agency news release in response to the billboard. It promotes WDFW’s toll-free number and also suggests calling the Washington State Patrol or the local sheriff’s office. She emphasized WDFW’s role as lead agency, but said she’s fine “however people are comfortable, just so somebody calls.”
The local groups sponsoring the billboard would rather call their sheriff.
“We always, always, always pass information to WDFW,” Manke said. “We don’t always get info from WDFW back to us, and not always in a timely manner. There is some basis for SCCA concerns.”
The overheated atmosphere surrounding wolf management recently led to WDFW canceling a series of 14 public meetings planned across the state. Shutting down the public meetings has caused more distrust and rumors. WDFW is working to address concerns about relying on an online survey, cutting out people with poor or no access to the web in rural Washington.
The threats are real. So are the rewards. If anyone is shooting off their mouth about killing cattle or killing wolves, then Sheriff Manke in Stevens County, Sheriff Maycumber in Ferry County and the Department of Fish and Wildlife are ready to listen.
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