Bring Out Your Dead (Livestock)!  

Bring Out Your Dead (Livestock)!  

Conservation Northwest / Sep 16, 2022 / Ranching, Wolves

Ranch sanitation is critical to help wolves and ranches avoid conflict

BY Paula Swedeen, Ph.D., POLICY DIRECTOR

Dead animals are a part of raising livestock for meat and dairy products. If not disposed of properly, they can create human health issues and attract scavenging wildlife. This can put wolves and other large carnivores in conflict with humans and potentially at risk of getting killed because someone set the table for them in the wrong place. 

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wolf-Livestock Interaction Protocol requires that livestock operations remove and properly dispose of dead animals and animal parts that act as attractants. The goal is to reduce wolves’ proximity to livestock and prevent potential depredations of live animals. However, the lack of proper sanitation continues to be an issue, and we would like to see a more proactive and comprehensive approach.   

A recent incident in the Stranger Pack territory close to Colville illustrates why the state needs to take additional steps to reduce the risk to wild animals, livestock, and potentially human health.   

Wolves started hanging around a dairy farm in the area, which has had a long-term issue with properly disposing of its dead cows. We heard rumors that WDFW was preparing to kill pack members or even the whole pack due to habituation to cattle at the operation. Fortunately, this turned out not to be true. Sadly, a wolf was shot and killed in a “Caught in the Act” incident on the property in July.  

WDFW staff have addressed this situation by getting their enforcement staff engaged and prepared to see that laws regarding intentionally attracting carnivores are followed. They have also directed conflict prevention dollars and staff time to assist the producer in cleaning up all dead animals and bone piles on the property, in addition to providing non-lethal deterrence to keep wolves from attacking cattle in the area.    

While we applaud these steps by WDFW personnel and the livestock producer, we propose additional actions to prevent future incidents. (You can read our letter to Director Susewind here). First, we would like to see WDFW create internal policy and external communication so there is no question that RCW’s 77.15.790 and 792 will be enforced when operators have previously been informed that they are creating unnatural attractants for carnivores. However, we recognize that sticks only go so far, and carrots, or at least more assistance, are needed.  

Second, we propose that the legislature fund additional carcass compost facilities and contract dump truck drivers and backhoe operators to pick up carcasses. If livestock operations have easy access to places to take dead animals and someone to help them transport the bodies, there should be no reason for wolves or other carnivores to think there are tasty meals to be had around livestock farms when they should be out chasing wild prey.   

WDFW should also be provided with ample funding for cost-share contracts (Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreements-Livestock) to assist with carcass clean-up, as was done in this recent situation. This funding push should be a joint project between WDFW and the Washington Department of Agriculture. There are currently zero carcass compost facilities available to ranchers. There is a mothballed facility on WDFW land at the Sherman Wildlife Area, and brought into being by our own Jay Shepherd when we worked as a conflict specialist for WDFW. A vigorous discussion at the Wolf Advisory Group could help inform how best to accomplish this expansion of services and to make sure they are designed so ranchers and farmers will use them.  

Finally, the Stranger Pack incident reveals a gaping hole in the Caught in the Act regulation which allows livestock operators to kill a wolf without a permit if they are in the act of pursuing or killing a domestic animal. WDFW Wolf Policy Lead Julia Smith recommends amending the Caught in the Act regulation. We couldn’t agree more. Caught in the Act should not apply in known wolf-occupied areas if there are also known carcass piles serving as wolf bait on an operator’s property. The current language is silent on this and should not be. We support asking the Fish and Wildlife Commission to amend Caught in the Act to fix this problem.   

We get that dairy farming and ranching are hard work, full of unpredictability and risk, and often with low profit margins. We would like to make it easier for livestock operations to properly dispose of their dead animals. We also don’t want to see any more wolves shot because of either lack of time and resources, or lack of willingness to clean up a problem.

Learn more about our work in Wolf Coexistence.

map of wolf packs in Washington state
Known wolf packs and single wolf territories in Washington in 2021, not including unconfirmed or suspected packs or border packs from other states and provinces. (Map courtesy of WDFW).

In addition to being our point person at the Washington State Capitol, Paula Swedeen directs our State Forest Lands and Cascades to Olympics conservation programs, as well as work on marbled murrelets and wolf recovery, including serving on the state’s Wolf Advisory Group