Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Headin' Home to Wolf Country

In just a few hours my counterpart will arrive here at our place of employment, and I'll be free to do as I wish for the next two weeks. My primary plan is to train my dogs, hoping to pick up as close as possible to where we left off, and continue to increase the team's stamina.

The biggest news in Two Rivers at the moment is a pack of wolves that took a pet dog off its tether just a little more than a mile from my home. You can read a newspaper article about it in today's issue of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Apparently this is the same pack of wolves that killed a pet dog near North Pole earlier in the month.

Although not an every day occurrence, it isn't terribly uncommon for wolves to prey on dogs during early winter in our area. It seems likely two or three years someone loses a dog or two to a pack of wolves, and since those losses seem to be in the same general area it is possible that the same pack is responsible.

Apparently in early winter it is difficult for wolves to find adequate wild prey. This is especially true in years when there is little snow. With so little snow on the ground moose, hares and other natural prey animals are able to move freely and thus more easily escape hunting wolves. Like most wild animals, wolves try to consume the maximum amount of calories with the least amount of work - and pet dogs are relatively easy prey.

The most effective way to protect sled dogs from wolves is to fence in your kennel - and that was part of my own thinking when I fenced my kennel last spring. Although wolves can scale fences, they need a really good reason to do so. They apparently recognize that they can be as easily trapped inside the enclosure as the dogs, and won't take the risk unless in truly dire straits. Since my own dog yard is fenced, and that of my nearest neighbor is not, I don't have much to worry over.

Wolves are naturally very intelligent animals that learn quickly through life experiences. Older wolves teach younger ones - and it's quite possible that this pack has considered dogs to be 'emergency rations' for several generations. Because the area in which they roam is popular with Fairbanks based hunters and trappers, this pack is also very well educated. They aren't likely to step into a trap or snare, just because they've already learned most of the tricks trappers use to catch wolves. The odds of them being shot by a hunter are also slim - they are nocturnal hunters and seem to have a knowledge of and healthy respect for firearms.

Unlike the Lower-48, wolves are not endangered in Alaska. In fact, there are some areas in Alaska where wolf populations are so high that they make it impossible for ungulate populations to thrive. In Alaska, wolves are considered a resource and are available for harvest under both hunting and trapping regulations. Our State Constitution requires that they be managed under the sustain yield principal, so if wolf populations fall too law the law limits the number than can be harvested, and where wolf populations are high harvest limits are more liberal.

Most of this information was noted in an editorial in today's newspaper. Wolves are wolves - they aren't dogs. Although I believe that they possess a strong hunter's spirit they are neither deities to be worshiped nor demons to be reviled. They are simply large carnivorous canines that thrive in ecosystems that provide the resources they need for survival. In Two Rivers, Alaska dogs rank among those resources.

So, what does this mean to me on a personal level? Would I shoot a wolf hanging around my dog yard? You betcha I would, in a New York minute. I'd be sad for the wolf's loss, but happy to have a nice wolf pelt to make a new ruff for my parka. I would honor its gift as I honor its spirit, but I most certainly would shoot it.

On the other hand, if I never have need to shoot a wolf to protect my dogs, I'll be just as happy. The presence of the wolves contributes much to the spirit of Two Rivers and of Alaska. It is an honor to live in a wild frontier where humans must share our environment with wolves, bears and other naturally wild creatures.

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