Bitterroot Rancher Kills Wolf
By MICHAEL MOORE, June 12, 2007.
Early last Tuesday morning, Ed Cummings was folded into the seats of his Honda, his feet hanging out the window, his dog asleep under his legs when the wolf showed up.
Cummings is a Bitterroot Valley rancher and he had been losing new calves for a couple of days. He'd seen his calves' necks slit, their backs broken and eaten, their heads crushed and he was fed up with it. So he took to the Honda.
“It wasn't the most comfortable way to spend the night, but I was just sick of losing these calves to these wolves,” Cummings said Monday. “I had to do something.”
Federal law allows property owners to shoot protected wolves if the animals are in the act of attacking livestock, and that's precisely what Cummings aimed to do when he decided to sleep in the cow pasture, where he runs about 270 head.
“I've had the Fish and Wildlife down here trying to confirm these cows as wolf kills, but it's hard sometimes when they've eaten the evidence,” said Cummings, who ranches on the west side of the valley between the Bass and Kootenai creek drainages.
Cummings had lost a few calves over the past week, but he hadn't taken much in the way of action until a man who'd been working on some ranch machinery last Monday told him that he'd been watched by a black wolf while he worked.
Cummings had just finished dinner and the news when he heard that, so he put on his clothes, grabbed a borrowed rifle and headed for the pasture.
For a long while, the night was uneventful, and he drifted in and out of an uncomfortable sleep.
“This is not the way I want to spend my life,” he said.
About 4:30 a.m., with first light just touching the Sapphires, Cummings was miserably folded into the Honda, the radio was on and the heeler asleep. Then the dog woke up and started growling. Cummings flipped on his headlights.
“There were just all these black shapes, cows running everywhere,” he said. “And right in the middle of them, just sort of trotting around, is this wolf.”
Cummings moved into action, trying to extricate himself from the car, keep an eye on the wolf and get the gun ready.
“I knocked one of my shoes off and I'm thinking, ‘God, I don't want to shoot myself out here,' ” he said. “I didn't make a very good shot, but I hit it.”
Cummings shot the wolf in the stomach, but it went down after running a short distance.
The next day, federal authorities killed another wolf in the area, and Vivaca Crowser, information officer for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said other cows were killed on June 6 and 7, the day after Cummings shot the first wolf.
Liz Bradley, FWP wolf specialist, said the wolf pack, known as the Brooks Creek pack, had seven wolves in it in late 2006, but there hasn't been a good count lately. Authorities have authorized the removal of two more wolves, and Cummings has been issued a shoot-on-sight permit for two wolves.
Once two more wolves are killed, either by federal authorities or Cummings, the so-called SOS permit will be revoked. Cummings could still shoot a wolf that was attacking his cows, of course, and Bradley and Crowser said the agency would consider removing more wolves should the depredations continue.
“We try to take an incremental approach that stops the depredations, but if we need to take additional action, we'll consider that,” Crowser said.
Bradley said there is no shortage of wolves in the Bitterroot, with as many as 10 different packs roaming the area. Many of the wolves use the west side of the valley, but Bradley said packs range through the Sapphires as well and roam all the way into Idaho.
That's the sort of news that doesn't cheer ranchers like Cummings, who thinks he's lost nine cows to wolves. He's not exactly a wolf fan, but could reluctantly abide the animals if they weren't killing off his stock.
“I don't want to be dealing with this,” he said. “Fish and Wildlife people want to come in here and put electric flags all around my cows. Why don't they take some electric flags and put them around these wolves and drive them out of here? But that's not the way they do things.”
That's why tonight, Cummings will have some dinner and spend some time with his wife. But when it comes time to go to bed, he will head for the fields, with the gun and his dog. One thing has changed, however.
“My wife has bought a new car since last week and it's a lot more comfortable for sleeping,” he said.