WENATCHEE, Wash. — State wildlife biologists and officers got their first look at a local wolf Tuesday as they were investigating the death of a pregnant cow on a ranch south of Wenatchee.
The cow was found on the same ranch where pictures of two wolves were captured on a remote camera Sunday.
“This is all happening so fast,” said Dave Volson, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Wildlife. Earlier in the day, the agency named the wolves as an official pack, now called the Wenatchee Pack.
“We don’t want to create hysteria about the wolves,” said Ross Hurd, who owns the ranch where the wolves have been seen for the last week and a half. “But we want people to know they are here and that we’re going to have to adapt to them being here.”
Volson said his office was called around noon Tuesday by Hurd after a family member found the dead cow on his ranch up Pitcher Canyon and suspected that it had been killed by the wolves.
Two biologists and two wildlife enforcement officers went to the ranch and were conducting a necropsy on the cow when Ross Hurd looked up and saw what he first thought was a coyote about 500 yards away in a winter wheat field.
Using binoculars, the state officers were able to confirm that it was a wolf. One person in the group thought they also saw a second wolf nearby.
“It was pretty amazing,” said Volson.
Hurd fired five shots near the wolf to scare it away. But he said the animal did not leave. At one point, it moved closer to the ranchers and state officers.
“If it wasn’t a protected species, I would have killed that wolf,” Hurd said in an interview Wednesday. “But as it stands, we have to find a way to co-exist with them.”
The state agency has not yet determined how the Hurds’ cow died. Volson said it was apparent that the cow had been scavenged by either a coyote or a wolf. But he said late Tuesday that he will need to consult with other wildlife experts around the state before issuing a determination on the cause of death.
However, Hurd said Wednesday that the state officers told him that the cow’s body did not have tell-tale crushing bite marks that would indicate it had been killed by a wolf.
“So I’m not going to get compensated by the state for it,” he said.
He said he put up two more remote cameras on his property to track the wolves on his ranch, which he described as being several thousand acres. The family plans to have more people out patrolling their property and watching over their livestock, which includes about 60 head of cattle, as well as horses and sheep. They will continue to fire shots to scare the wolves away from the ranch.
Volson said that the state plan for managing wolves encourages property owners to take actions to scare wolves away from livestock, including shooting guns. But he said that wolves are a federally protected species so they may not be injured or killed.
“It makes sense to make the wolves uncomfortable in and around cattle,” he said.
The state plan, adopted in 2011, uses an approach of actively deterring wolves from coming onto private property and compensating ranchers for livestock killed by wolves. The plan also offers tips to ranchers such as waiting until calves reach 200 pounds before allowing them to graze on open range and not allowing cattle to graze near wolf dens.
According to the plan, there have been no documented attacks on people by wolves in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming since wolf recovery began in the 1980s. However, wolves have killed at least 144 dogs in those three states since 1987.
Hurd said his family plans to work closely with state biologists and enforcement officers as they try to find out more information about the new Wenatchee wolf pack.
“We’re going to do our best to figure all this out,” he said. “But, in our minds, the likelihood of more cows being killed is very high. ... The thought of that is making me lose sleep. I was wide awake last night because I didn’t know what might be going on out there.”