In the 20-plus years the Swannacks have raised sheep in Whitman County, Friday's event is a first. When the family was rounding up their flock that escaped their pasture the night before, they found one half-eaten in the field. “As we went on moving the sheep back to the field they were suppose to be in we discovered the kill in the straw," Ranch owner Art Swannack said.
Swannack said before they found the kill, his wife saw a wolf on the ridge, a rare occurrence for the Lamont area. "We hadn't seen a wolf in our area until earlier this year,” Swannack said. “We had a friend down in Lamont saw one by the pasture area there."
The Department of Fish and Wildlife came out to the ranch the same afternoon and examined the carcass. Though there were no witnesses or tracks left behind due to overnight rains, agents believe the sheep was killed by a wolf based on the damage done to the animal. “If livestock is there and it's easy prey, it happens,” Madonna Luers, spokesperson said. “So that's the biggest problem with wolves."
To date there isn't a confirmed wolf pack in the area; the closest one is in the Moscow hills area. Wildlife officials said it's possible one ventured over, regardless the state agency is now working with other ranchers in Whitman County to make sure their livestock is protected. “Our conflict specialists are talking with all livestock producers in the area,” Luers said. “This one producer in the area losing a sheep doesn't mean that other people's livestock couldn't be at risk. So they're talking to all of them about taking different steps and actions to prevent a similar situation from occurring."
One of their efforts is putting up fladgry to deter wolves away from livestock. "Fladgry is a fence line with red flagging hanging from it,” Luers said. “It's a European method developed that works very well with canines.”
Luers adds that it's important to remember wolves typically are not a threat to humans. However, for farmers who rely on livestock to make a living, wolves coming into the area looks to be a growing issue. “We deal with coyote predation on a somewhat of a regular basis and that's what the guard dogs are for,” Swannack said. “But if you have a large pack of wolves forming in the area, it changes the dynamic significantly."