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Wolves suspected in attack to be tested

James Halpin
The body of Candice Berner was discovered March 8, 2010, off a 7-mile gravel road leading to the Chignik Lake airstrip.

Two wolves killed by state officials were being transported Tuesday to the state wildlife veterinarian in Fairbanks for testing to determine if they were, in fact, the animals that killed a teacher out jogging near Chignik Lake last week, according to the state Department of Fish and Game.

The wolves, shot from a helicopter in the Chignik drainage, matched the descriptions of wolves seen at the site where 32-year-old Candice Berner, a special-education teacher based in Perryville, was attacked and killed March 8 on a remote road outside town, according to Fish and Game.

Alaska State Troopers say evidence at the scene indicated at least two or three wolves were involved in the attack, which left Berner's body partially predated. It has not been made clear how many wolves Fish and Game intends to kill.

Along with troopers and their helicopter, a Fish and Game biologist, Lem Butler, remains in the Alaska Peninsula community seeking out other wolves that may have been involved. Fish and Game spokeswoman Jennifer Yuhas said in an e-mail that Butler reported Tuesday no more wolves had been killed and that he'd come across many types of tracks but none of them belonging to wolves.

The two wolves killed Monday were to be forensically examined by the state wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen, to determine if they are the animals that killed Berner, Yuhas said.

Beckmen will compare measurements of the wolves' teeth to the bite marks found on Berner's body, she said. Officials also plan to compare DNA from the wolves to samples taken last week from Berner's body.

The wolves will be tested for disease, including distemper and rabies, Yuhas said. The wolves' brains will be sent to the Alaska Virology Laboratory in Fairbanks to be studied for rabies, which attacks the nervous system and is endemic among foxes and sometimes found in wolves in the Chignik Lake area, she said.

"Given the rarity of such incidents, there is some speculation as to the health of the animals involved," Yuhas said.

Villagers in Chignik Lake say they haven't been much consoled by the deaths of just the two wolves.

"There is still more concern," said Virginia Aleck, a village elder. "I don't think it will ever be the same again."

Villagers know there are more than two wolves in the pack and that the caribou and moose they eat are still scarce, Aleck said. Kids continue to be escorted to school, and armed local hunters are still patrolling town watching for wolves, she said.

Chignik Lake is a predominantly Alutiiq fishing village on the Alaska Peninsula, some 475 miles southwest of Anchorage. Its school mascot is the wolf, though locals are considering a change since Berner's death, Aleck said. Villagers have taken down a stuffed wolf that had been in the school lobby, she said.

"A mascot is something you look up to, something heroic," Aleck said. "This guy is not a role model in my heart or in my mind anymore. He took a human life."

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.


By JAMES HALPIN
jhalpin@adn.com