NINE MILE FALLS – Two brothers were starting their morning chores when they noticed that their sheep had escaped from the pen.
The flock was scattered across a field, where a wolf crouched in the tall grass. The wolf ran away when Bob and Rich Tessier sped toward it on four-wheelers. An 80-pound ewe had been killed; two other sheep were injured.
The June 16 attack occurred on a small ranch near Nine Mile Falls, within 15 miles of downtown Spokane. The wolf’s proximity to Eastern Washington’s largest metro center surprised even some wildlife officials.
“They’re here, closer to Spokane than anyone thought,” said Madonna Luers, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman.
Wild wolves seldom pose a threat to people, she said, noting that only two human deaths from wolf attacks have been documented in North America over the past 60 years. But livestock are a different matter.
“We know that Spokane County is full of hobby farmers,” she said. “There are people who raise all sorts of things – goats, llamas and sheep. It’s something to have a heads-up about. Wolves are one of our native species that are rejoining the suite of predators out there.”
The sheep attack occurred about two miles from Riverside State Park’s ranger station in Nine Mile Falls. The Tessier brothers live on Pine Bluff Road, an area of rural homes with intermingled pasture and timberland.
Bob Tessier declined to be interviewed. He said he and his brother had told a wildlife officer everything they knew about the incident and they “preferred to be done with it.”
In the report, Rich Tessier said he had seen strange-looking scat by the sheep pen about a week before the attack. It didn’t resemble coyote sign, which the brothers said they frequently find on their property.
Tracks left in the dew indicate the wolf paced up and down beside the pen on the morning of June 16. The men spotted the wolf about 6:20 a.m. They got within about 40 yards of it and described the wolf as dark-colored with a lighter face.
The Fish and Wildlife officer who performed a necropsy confirmed that the ewe’s injuries were consistent with a wolf kill. The ewe was bleeding from the neck, where massive bruising was also present.
The sheep enclosure was surrounded by a 4-foot-tall electric fence, and it’s unclear whether the wolf got inside. It could have happened, which might be what caused the 15 sheep to bolt, said Art Swannack, a Whitman County sheep producer.
“It’s easily possible for a wolf to jump a 4-foot electric fence,” he said. “I’ve seen a coyote do it, and I’ve seen guard dogs do it.”
Swannack is a member of Washington’s Wolf Working Group, which provided input on the state’s wolf management plan. The plan offers compensation to livestock owners who lose animals through wolf depredation.
The ewe was worth about $300, according to the Tessiers. It’s a special breed that sheds its wool so shearing isn’t required.
No additional wolf sightings have been reported in the Nine Mile Falls area, but the June 16 incident confirms that wild wolves have ventured south into Spokane County, Luers said.
Members of the public definitely took notice of the earlier news reports, she said. About a week ago, the agency received a call from a resident of the Indian Trail neighborhood on Spokane’s western edge. The caller claimed to have snapped a picture of a wolf in the neighborhood.
Wildlife biologists examined the photo.
“It was clearly a coyote,” Luers said, “but we take all reports seriously.”