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State kills wolves in wake of teacher death

James Halpin
The body of Candice Berner was discovered Monday evening, March 8, 2010, off a roughly seven-mile gravel road leading to the Chignik Lake. Lake and Peninsula School District

State officials on Monday found and killed two wolves thought to be responsible for killing a teacher in Chignik Lake last week, according to the Department of Fish and Game.

The wolves were found in the Chignik drainage a week after the March 8 death of 32-year-old Candice Berner, a special education teacher killed in an apparent wolf attack while jogging along a remote road, according to Alaska State Troopers. Troopers say they think at least two or three wolves were involved in the attack.

They and a state Department of Fish and Game biologist have been in the Alaska Peninsula community since late last week seeking to capture or kill the wolves, though blowing snow had prevented them from taking to the air.

On Monday, winds settled enough to let them get a look around, Fish and Game spokeswoman Jennifer Yuhas said in an e-mail. As of Monday evening, searchers had found old tracks but had not seen or killed any wolves, she said.

A subsequent aerial outing turned up two of the wolves, she said. One of them was lighter than the other, which appeared to be more healthy, she said.

"The wolves taken match descriptions of wolves seen at the recent fatality site of Candice Berner," Yuhas said in an e-mail. "They will undergo a variety of tests including rabies. It will be very important to learn as much as we can from the samples we have obtained. Genetic material from all biological samples (wolves) taken will be compared to samples taken from the victim."

State officials plan to resume searching for more wolves this morning, she said.

Yuhas said no fresh wolf tracks have been reported near town. But townsmen have reported sightings of wolves in and near town in recent days. Local hunters began patrolling for the wolves after Berner was killed, but have so far not killed any, stymied by conditions and terrain, she said.

Berner, a special education teacher based in Perryville, was originally from Slippery Rock, Pa., and arrived in Alaska last August. She stood about 4 feet, 11 inches tall and was an athletic person, an avid runner, according to her family. Officials from the Lake and Peninsula School District said Berner, who rotated among five villages and arrived in Chignik Lake on Monday, left work at the end of the day to go for a run.

A group of snowmachiners found her a short time later. Her gloves were in the road and Berner's body had been dragged off the road down a hill. Troopers say the wolves partially predated her and inflicted severe damage to her throat in the attack.

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By JAMES HALPIN
jhalpin@adn.com