With cattle in Washington’s wolf country, ranchers work and worry

As ranchers in Washington’s wolf country head into another summer of grazing their herds, it’s also a season of worry and hard feelings over management of the predators.

STEVENS COUNTY — Bellows and bedlam echo across the valley as Rhonda and Kevin DalBalcon keep up a slow, steady pressure on the cows and calves they are moving.

“C’mon, girls!” shouts Rhonda, her long braid flying as her horse deftly cuts off cows that balk, redirecting them to the herd.

Good as they are at this work, a new player has ranchers here on edge.

Wolves.

No one in Washington has borne the brunt of adjustment to the return of the wolf like the families here. Washington is home to a minimum 115 wolves in an estimated 20 packs. But 11 of those packs are bunched up here, overlapping grazing allotments in the Colville National Forest.

As wolves once again raise their pups this summer, their growing families and appetites raise a specter of dread in ranching country. Last summer, 15 cattle were killed or injured by the Profanity Peak pack — most of which was in turn killed by the state.

Apart from the complications and expense added to their management routines, ranchers are animal people. And they don’t like what they see, either in cattle eaten alive by wolves, or wolves shot dead by the state.

“When they shot those pups, we felt sick,” Rhonda DalBalcon said of the Profanity Peak wolves. “It’s not the wolves’ fault. It’s like they are breeding them to shoot them. Can’t they manage and control them any better than that?”

Moving the cattle somewhere else to avoid conflict if wolves show up — or kicking them off the national forest altogether, as some critics would like — isn’t so simple.

The Colville National Forest is a 1.1-million-acre sweep of country covering Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties. Grazing here has been federal policy for more than a century, and the calendar of when and where to turn out…

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