An Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee last week shot and killed a female wolf on a remote part of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
The shooting is part of a larger state and military mission to exterminate a group of "problem" wolves reportedly attacking pets and approaching or even threatening people.
Some 10 to 12 wolves roam a wide area from Ship Creek to Peters Creek and perhaps beyond, authorities say. With no way of knowing which wolves have been involved in numerous incidents around people and pets, they say, all the animals need to be exterminated.
A state employee glimpsed a group of five wolves in the woods on the northwest part of what used to be Elmendorf Air Force Base after 4 p.m. on Jan. 12, according to Mark Burch, Fish and Game's regional wildlife conservation supervisor in Anchorage. The man was on base for unrelated reasons and wasn't there to pursue wolves, Burch said.
The wolf, a younger female, was about 40 yards away when she was shot, Burch said. That female was closest to him that's why he targeted her but the employee also saw four others a short distance behind her.
Wolves are usually pretty skittish around people. But these didn't run off, Burch said.
"He had quite a bit of time to get out and get set up to take the shot," he said. "These wolves did not show the normal behavior that you'd expect from wolves, it was more consistent with what we've been describing as wolves that don't have the normal fear of humans."
Reports, including several this year on base and in Powder Ridge describe a group of five wolves, Burch said.
Wildlife agents from the state and the military still plan to kill the rest of the wolves if possible, he said, along, with the help of a civilian expert trapper who will set snares to trap the wolves.
Residents of JBER and neighborhoods from Eagle River to Chugiak have reported increasingly bold behavior from the pack.
Wolves may have killed a Chugiak sheep in mid-December. A wolf apparently ran in front of a dog team at Beach Lake in late November or early December, according to anecdotal information provided to a state biologist. That same weekend, a skijorer reported that a wolf tried to separate them from their dog. Neither incident involved an attack.
In November, a Powder Ridge resident reported that a wolf killed their beagle on Halloween. In May, two runners told military police they climbed a tree on base to escape a number of frightening, aggressive wolves. Some of these wolves may have also targeted dogs three years ago.
State and military wildlife authorities are working together to exterminate the wolves. Burch said both sides are progressing toward agreement on a plan to use helicopters to shoot wolves should the trapping not prove successful. But "it really remains to be seen whether that's an approach that will need to be implemented or not," he said.
Among other things, busy military and civilian air traffic in the area could complicate efforts to target wolves from a helicopter.
Wildlife authorities plan to re-evaluate their strategy at the end of this month.
In one of the more recent incidents, Chugiak homesteader Til Wallace last month lost a beloved sheep to what appeared to be several wolves. But Burch said he's still awaiting the results of genetic testing before the state can know for certain that wolves killed the sheep.
According to a state press release, people on the military base can minimize their risk of a wolf encounter by walking dogs in populated areas. People should travel in groups, stay on well-used roads and always keep dogs on a leash. If approached by a wolf or wolves, stay calm, and don't run, but do act aggressively toward the wolf. Air horns or bear spray can help deter advancing wolves. Always be alert when traveling in wolf habitat; do not wear earplugs or head phones. Children should always be accompanied by an adult when walking in areas where wolves are known to roam.
Officials would like people to report wolf sightings on base or near homes or in neighborhoods or wolf encounters. Contact a base dispatcher immediately at 522-3421 or call the Division of Wildlife Conservation Information Center at 267-2257 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. For information on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson contact 907-552-8143.
For detailed information about coexisting with wolves, preventing habituation, and staying safe in wolf country, visit www.wc.adfg.state.ak.us/management/wolves/living_in_wolf_country.pdf.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, January 19, 2011.