Anchorage wolves test residents' nerves

EAGLE RIVER: Beagle taken from yard; packs may be cut.

November 7, 2010 

Buster, a 15-year-old beagle, was likely dragged into woods from an Eagle River home by wolves.

PHOTO COURTESY DUNLAP FAMILY

Increasingly bold wolves roaming Eagle River and East Anchorage have left some residents jittery after a bloodied pet beagle was reportedly dragged into the woods and sightings have been reported in backyards.

As a result, state biologists are seeking opportunities to thin area packs by killing wolves.

"When a pack of wolves is literally scouting a neighborhood and has dragged off a family's pet from their backyard, I think it is fair to expect something to be done about it, in a swift, effective manner," wrote Eagle River resident Candis Olmstead in a letter to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"I really hope that an action plan to eliminate this problem will be acted upon before another pet -- or God forbid, a child -- is killed."

Mark Burch, a Fish and Game regional supervisor, said two wolf packs roam each side of the Glenn Highway.

He estimates the west-side group, known as the Elmendorf pack, has four to six adults with pups while the east-side group, know as the Ship Creek pack, has at least six adults. He acknowledges those numbers are hazy at best. Other state and military wildlife biologists have said packs may include a dozen or more animals at other times, and Burch said pack allegiances can be fluid.

In February, state biologists put radio collars on two wolves; one is still intact and transmitting.

The collar, which fixes a location every two hours, shows the smaller wolf pack ranging from Ship Creek to near Peters Creek, he said. Normally, the animals stay on military land but sometimes venture off.

Usually skittish, wolves typically avoid humans. But a fatal attack in March that killed a schoolteacher jogging near Chignik heightened fears statewide. The Chignik incident is the second known fatal wolf attack in North America.

Anchorage wolves that behave aggressively will be shot by state or military wildlife officers "if they can be taken in a safe and humane manner," Burch said.

"These particular wolves are showing a pattern where they're losing a fear of humans. We're getting more reports of problems with pets. They're showing aggression.

"We're definitely not taking a wait-and-see attitude. But, of course, the opportunity is not very great."

He said a more detailed plan to cull local wolves will be announced next week.

"We are working with the military on a more aggressive approach," Burch said. "That could include trapping. Trapping can be an efficient way to kill wolves. The cons are that non-target wildlife or pets could be caught. That would be very unfortunate, but public safety is a very high priority."

Incidents involving wolves in that part of Anchorage over the past few years include:

• In late May, two women and a black Labrador mix were running in the Artillery Road area of Fort Richardson, according to a report filed with military police, when they encountered two wolves. The runners turned around, but the wolves gave chase, forcing the women to climb trees. One woman said one of the wolves showed its teeth. Nobody was injured, but neither woman felt safe enough to descend for two hours.

• In December of 2007, wolves attacked a half-dozen dogs in Eagle River's Powder Ridge subdivision. Among the dogs was Punky, a 20-pound schnauzer owned by Jack and Beverly Bronner, which disappeared from the couple's yard one night. Earlier that month, a wolf attacked Mike Krause's 75-pound Labrador retriever, Brit, during an early- evening walk in the same neighborhood. By yelling and waving, Krause got the wolf to back off.

• At least six wolves were killed by cars along a roughly half-mile stretch of the Glenn Highway between Anchorage and Eagle River last fall and winter, according to Fish and Game. Normally, vehicle collisions with wolves are rare.

"We've been seeing more habituated behaviors," Burch said.

Olmstead has lived in the residential Powder Ridge subdivision of north Eagle River since her home was built more than seven years ago.

She's never actually seen a wolf, but neighbors' accounts have amped her anxiety.

The latest incident came a week ago on Halloween when neighbors Chris and Sara Dunlap's beagle reportedly was dragged into the woods.

Buster, a 15-year-old dog weighing about 35 pounds, was let outdoors about 4 p.m. with a bone he likes to bury. He never returned.

In daylight the next morning, Chris Dunlap found blood in the snow and marks indicating the dog had been dragged. He followed the trail a quarter mile until he came upon a large area estimated at 100 square feet.

"It was a big bloody spot, with tons of wolf prints back there," Sara Dunlap said. Her husband found no evidence of Buster, however.

Two days later, Sara Dunlap said, a neighbor told her a wolf was on her back deck at 9:30 a.m.

"Everybody's a little nervous about it," she said. "But wolves are doing what wolves do."

Olmstead estimates neighbors have seen wolves three or four times over the last six months.

"I think the threat needs to be taken away," she said. "People have this idea they are safe, but I don't think it's worth taking any risks. It's a real threat."

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