Friday, December 7, 2007

The Visitor

There seems to be a feeling of tension in the air here in Two Rivers lately. A pack of wolves has been actively hunting dogs in the area, and over the past month they are known to have killed and consumed at least three, and attempted to kill a fourth within the past couple of weeks. Even more disconcerting, wolves and wolf signs have been spotted right in people’s yards, sometimes very close to sled dog kennels and people's homes.

The wolves have become the number 1 topic of conversation in our community. It is enough of a concern that the the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is holding a community meeting Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Two Rivers Church of the Nazarene at 14.8 Mile Chena Hot Springs Road. Department spokeswoman Cathie Harms said state wildlife biologists will answer questions from local residents and provide information about wolf behavior and tips on how to keep them from attacking dogs.

I’ve tried not to worry too much about the situation. I have every reason to be confident that my dogs are as safe as I can make them. My kennel is located next to my house and is completely fenced. Wolves are very intelligent animals and it would be very rare for a wolf to enter an area in which it might be fenced in along with its intended prey. One of my dogs is an Alaskan husky / Anatolian Shepherd Dog mix who displays many of the traits of his guardian dog ancestors. He is quick to sound the alarm in a breed-typical manner. Another of my dogs, a St. Bernard mix is equally quick to sound off when anything is moving about in the woods.

So far the dogs targeted as prey by the wolves have been pet dogs either running at large or chained in small groups. Although the wolves have explored sled dog kennels they haven’t been so bold as to actually attack a sled dog. All of my dogs are considerably larger than typical sled dogs, and all are in excellent health and physical condition – not the sort of beast that would qualify as an easy breakfast.

Apparently my confidence was tested early this morning. As I was drinking my morning coffee at about 7:00 or so my two mixed breed dogs started barking and carrying on. I grabbed a spotlight and checked the area, but saw nothing of concern and the two dogs quieted very readily. I thought nothing more of it as I watered the team and scooped the kennel.

With my morning chores finished, I started my car to drive into Fairbanks and run some errands. Backing the car around in the drive I saw an interesting set of tracks in the fresh snow. It doesn’t require a Daniel Boone or Davy Crocket to read the story they told.

The wolf left tracks larger than those of my largest dog (an 85# freighting husky) but narrow compared to those of my dogs. As is common in wolves, the rear foot prints fall almost exactly on top of those left by the front foot while trotting, so it was easy to see that the front feet splayed out more than the rear. When running all four feet leave distinct prints.

Following the tracks it appears that the wolf was trotting along the power line right of way that crossed my property. When the wolf reached my driveway it turned toward the house to check things out, maybe drawn by the smell of the baited water I had given my dogs earlier. As the wolf neared the range at which my ASD mix usually sounds an alert, the tracks showed the wolf jumped and reversed direction, and then loped straight out the driveway, turning east along the shoulder of the highway and disappearing into the falling snow.

I guess we can add this one to the growing number of sightings of wolves or wolf sign coming in very close to human habitation here in Two Rivers – a reminder that we really do enjoy the privilege of living in the last wild frontier in America.

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