A wolf killed one sheep and injured two others on a small Nine Mile Falls ranch earlier this month, the state’s wildlife agency said Friday, marking the first wolf attack on livestock in Spokane County since at least the early 1950s.
Steve Pozzanghera, eastern region director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Friday two brothers woke up June 16 to see their flock of about 15 sheep in the pasture and away from the pen area where they normally gather in the morning.
The men, who are not identified in the incident report, rode four-wheelers out to the flock, where they said they saw a lone wolf chasing one of the sheep. The animal then ran away.
A subsequent investigation by the Fish and Wildlife Department determined that the predator was a gray wolf, Pozzanghera said. Helping confirm that it was a wolf kill was the severity of the wounds – wolves have “incredible jaw strength” – and tracks found in the area, he said.
“You’re not talking about a dog-size track,” Pozzanghera said.
The incident report lists the location of the attack as 11000 N. Pinebluff Road.
The department announced that it had confirmed the predation as a wolf kill on Friday.
Washington Fish and Wildlife also said Friday that it had confirmed a new pack of wolves in southern Stevens County, east of Fruitland and north of the Spokane Indian Reservation. The pack, which remote wildlife cameras show includes at least five pups, is the state’s seventh confirmed pack. It has been named the Huckleberry Pack, after nearby Huckleberry Mountain.
“It’s certainly not out of the question that these animals are related,” Pozzanghera said of the new pack and the wolf that attacked the sheep. “It’s representative of the increasing number and distribution of wolves on the landscape.”
However, he said the wolf that attacked the Spokane County flock appears to be a dispersing wolf, traveling through the Nine Mile Falls area rather than taking up residence there.
And while the June 16 attack was the first of its kind confirmed in Spokane County in decades, wolves have been spotted in the northern portion of the county in recent years, Pozzanghera said.
Gray wolves were essentially wiped out in Washington by the mid-20th century, with occasional sightings in the Cascades and far northern reaches of the state. But following a successful reintroduction of the species in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and natural migration from Canada, they are once again gaining a toehold in the state.
The state lists wolves as endangered throughout Washington; the federal government lists the animal as endangered in the western two-thirds of the state.
Washington’s wolf management plan, adopted last December, calls for 15 breeding pairs to be sustained in three defined regions of the state for three years before they are delisted.
The management plan also calls for livestock producers to be reimbursed for wolf predation. The Nine Mile Falls rancher will be the second in the state to qualify for reimbursement. In May, biologists concluded that wolves likely killed a calf in the Methow Valley, though they could not confirm that because so much of the calf’s carcass had been eaten.
Pozzanghera said the Spokane County ranchers estimated their sheep was worth about $300, though the amount they will be reimbursed has not been settled.
The two other sheep injured in the attack are recovering well, Pozzanghera said.