A Forest Service employee shot pepper spray and screamed to hold a growling wolf at bay last month in north-central Washington, according to a taped interview between the woman and a state Fish and Wildlife officer.
The 25-year-old woman distanced herself from the wolf by re-climbing a tree. Before that, the wolf weaved toward her and came within about 15 meters, she estimated.
“He or she is kind of growling and barking and howling at me, and I’m kind of giving it back in return,” she said.
“It starts coming closer to me, and I’m backing up, and it comes closer to me, and I finally give it all I got with a big scream, and it starts to back off, and we just kind of back off of each other, and I put myself back up that tree.”
The tape, obtained by the Capital Press in response to a records request, provides a first-hand description of the July 12 incident in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Encounters with wolves are rare in Washington, though ranchers and county commissioners in northeast Washington have said the growing number of wolves in their corner of the state raises public-safety concerns.
The Capital Press is not naming the woman, in step with a state law that shields the identities of ranchers who report wolf attacks or enter into agreements with the state to share the cost of hiring range-riders. An effort Thursday to obtain further comment from the woman was unsuccessful.
The woman was interviewed by Fish and Wildlife officer Justin Troutman shortly after she was picked up in a meadow by a Department of Natural Resources helicopter crew and flown to Omak. She said she had hiked into the forest alone to mark where a crew should take samples from a stream for a Forest Service survey of salmon habitat.
“I hear the wolf kind of start barking and howl out. At that point, I kind of back away from the stream and get onto higher ground, so I can have a little better view of my surroundings,” she said.
She called her supervisor on a satellite phone, and he told her to leave the area. A wolf, however, appeared and came toward her. “He’s, like, you should get up a tree.”
The woman said she stayed in a tree for 10 to 15 minutes and climbed down.
“Pretty much immediately, I maybe walk 100 meters and get cut off by the same wolf, and it starts coming toward me, and at this point I have my bear spray out, and it’s more or less a screaming match between me and the wolf,” she told Troutman.
Another wolf was at the far end of the meadow, she said. “I could hear a few others in different areas.”
“The other thing that was stressing me out was that I knew there was at least one more around me,” she said. “They like to strategize, so I wasn’t sure where that one was relative to where the interaction was going down.”
She fired the pepper spray at the wolf in front of her. According to the can’s label, the spray has a range of 10 meters. “I didn’t reach the animal, but I did do a warning spray as I continued to back up,” she said.
The wolf continued to weave.
“It was doing a lot of zigzagging. It would come right at me, and then pop off a little bit, and come at me from the other angle and pop off on the other side,” she said.
“I was just basically screaming at it the best that I could, and I’d say the interaction was probably fairly short. Maybe like 30 seconds to a minute. It wasn’t a long interaction, but it was long enough to put me back up in that tree.”