Less and less snow has been blanketing the Northwest Arctic each winter for the past few years, which is good and bad. It's good for the caribou -- if there isn't a lot of ice -- because they can travel freely across the tundra, escaping prey. It's not so good for the wolves, which rely on caribou as a main staple in their diet. So hungry wolves move into communities looking for easy food.
Last year around this time, wolves were reported in Selawik and Deering. Last week, Buckland residents were issued a warning that wolves were in their village.
Reports from locals estimate anywhere from three to 13 wolves in, or near, town.
Besides two village police officers taking shifts, two hunters have been touring a 10-mile radius around town scouting for the carnivores, said Tim Gavin, vice mayor of Buckland and owner of Gavin's Guns.
"I've been riding around town too," he said Friday. "I saw one behind the clinic yesterday."
If wolves are seen in town, the VHF is used to warn locals, he added. And if there is an immediate danger, the town will go on lockdown.
When lockdown is called, anyone on the streets gets pulled into the closest house for safety, he said.
"These wolves are hungry. But if we don't see any today or tomorrow, then they've moved on," Gavin said.
As of Friday, they looked as if they were heading north.
Gavin noted that each year, the region is getting less and less snow. The hills near town are still brown, he said.
On Monday, Buckland city administrator Clarence Thomas said the wolves are still hanging around.
"They're still coming around and we're still watching out for them," Thomas said.
The wolves don't make an appearance every year but it's not a big surprise to see them in the village, he added, noting that the pack's presence coincides with winter melting and freezing patterns.
"This happens often when they're hungry and when there's no snow," added Gavin.
With the Western Arctic caribou herd in good physical shape this year, according to state biologists, and the absence of snow hindering the herd's movements, the snowless winter could prove beneficial for the declining caribou population. But that means predators like wolves are on the hunt for alternative food sources and may move into communities to seek out an easy meal.
In Buckland, residents are advised to be cautious when walking their kids to school or around town, Gavin said.
This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.