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By Steve Schoonoverto
Chico >> A north Chico-based rancher has lost at least one cow to wolves on grazing land in western Lassen County, the first kill since wolves returned to the state in 2011.
Wally Roney of the Roney Land and Cattle Co., believes he’s lost at five cows to the wolves, but the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has just confirmed one attack that happened on Oct. 13.
Roney’s pulling all his livestock out of Lassen County as a result of the attacks.
Roney told Sam Williams of the Plumas County News that CDFW notified him a GPS-collared female wolf of the Lassen Pack was at each of the five sites before he found the dead animals.
“They told me the exact point that wolf was at prior to the kill,” Roney told Williams. “I had been to each one of those points the night before, and then they called me and told me she’d been there. I went and checked, and I had a dead animal on all five points. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.”
In an e-mailed statement, CDFW Deputy Director Jordan Traverso said, “We went to great lengths to communicate with the rancher and with others in the community nearby about the presence of wolves.
“With this producer, we made it clear that the wolves were frequenting the site where his cows were,” Traverso continued. “We offered the producer non-lethal assistance/tools. The producer declined.
In a phone call Friday afternoon, Roney told this newspaper that the “non-lethal” tools — things like flashing lights and sirens —would have stampeded his cattle. “Their methods were not consistent with proper animal husbandry.”
Traverso also said one of the departments employees volunteered to camp at the site to dissuade the wolves, but Roney said he refused because of the liability.
“There’s a half-million pounds of cattle … do I want someone camping there at night?”
The Roney family owns a number of parcels in western Lassen County and has grazing leases on public lands in the area as well. The cattle are taken there in summer. Roney said the area where the attacks occurred is a 1,000-acre piece of land the family owns, with a meadow with a cabin and a barn.
He said there may be more dead cows in the more remote areas where the family runs cattle.
The operation is headquartered off Highway 99 just south of the Tehama County line. The cattle are normally brought there in winter, but about two-thirds of them have been brought back already. Roney’s lining up trucks to move the rest.
Fish and Wildlife officials examined four dead cattle of Roney’s between Sept. 19 and Sept. 30 in Lassen County.
Although the animals had been partly eaten, investigators weren’t able to find conclusive evidence that wolves had killed the cattle, or just eaten on them after they’d died otherwise.
The Oct. 13 kill was different. Fish and Wildlife found evidence of a struggle. The location and depth of bite marks indicated the 600-pound heifer had been killed by wolves.
The radio-collared wolf — LAS01F — was tracked at the site where the 600-pound heifer died, for three hours that night.
“Frustratingly, current California law provides ranchers and CDFW very few tools for deterring and managing wolves,” California Cattlemen’s Association President Dave Daley said in a press release.
“Under current law, we have extremely limited options for protecting our livestock.”
CDFW was also criticized for not announcing the wolf kill.
“It’s important for Californians to understand the full implications of the wolf’s return,” California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said in the release. “People need to recognize wolves not as cute woodland creatures but as predators that kill.”
“The Farm Bureau and Cattlemen’s Association may not like wolves in California,” CDFW’s Traverso added in her statement. “That’s a given, and reasonable. We believe it would be more constructive to have them at the table working with us, not against us.”
The Lassen Pack was first sighted in June, and consists of two adults and at least three pups. It was the second pack established in the state after the Shasta Pack arrived in 2015. The first pack’s status is currently unknown.
The first wolf in California since the 1920s was OR7, who in 2011 wandered as far south as Butte County before returning to Oregon.