A central Washington rancher is readying for another year with his cattle living beside wolves. Last summer, he was the first in his area to lose two cows to the predators.
Spring is Sam Kayser's most fragile month all year. There are calves everywhere, some only a day old.
"We have five or 600 by the time they're all born. When it all starts, you'll have three or four a day, and now on a busy day will have 20 or 30 calves a day," he said.
Most are healthy and run with the wind that blows through the Kittitas pastures, but some fall sick or get hurt and need extra attention.
"You can get emotionally bonded with them, you heal them up when they're sick."
They're cute, but they're also Kayser's livelihood. His family ranch has raised cattle on the land in Kittitas for decades.
For the first time last year, though, he dealt with a predator he'd only heard about.
"I was afraid it was going to happen sooner or later," he said.
Washington's wolves are growing in number. By the end of last year, there were 90 across the state, in 18 packs. They continue to move west.
The wolves in the pack closest to the Cascades, the Teanaway pack, are Kayser's new neighbors.
"This fence does not keep the predators out, but it keeps them where we can keep an eye on them," Kayser said as he closed the pasture gate.
Soon, the cows won't have the fence. Kayser will truck them to the mountains near Cle Elum in a few months.
It's where the Teanaway pack lives. Last year, the wolves killed two of his cows. One was a few months old, but the other was full grown and weighed 1,100 pounds.
The breeding female in the pack was poached in 2014, and research has shown that losing the alpha female or male can throw a pack’s behavior into disarray.
"When they go up to the mountains, they won't us have us around to protect them, but they will be bigger. Depends on how many wolves attack them at once."
Death is a part of life on a ranch. Kayser recently located a dead cow near a creek, likely a result of her pregnancy.
But death by wolf, for a rancher, usually isn't the same.
"When the wolf kills your animal it's something that you really didn't bargain for. It's just as if a poacher came and shot your cow," Kayser said.
It's also different because this time the state owes him money. Kayer signed a controversial contract some ranchers won't. It requires the state to pay him when the protected predators kill his livestock.
After months of phone calls to clarify, Kayser is still waiting for his money.
"It makes me a lot less accepting of having them around. In the sense that, I want to believe there's room out there for all of us, but I don't think I should bear the financial burden," he said.
Trust between ranchers and the government is shifting as wolves settle into the landscape. For some it's blowing away, but others are accepting that predators are also important, and that just like the cattle, wolves are here to stay.
Kayser participates in Conservation Northwest's Range Rider program. It's a non-lethal way to track and deter the wolves away from cattle. KING 5 will join them later this spring when the cows are moved closer to the Teanaway wolf pack.
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