Wolf sightings in the wetlands area have hikers worried for their safety.
At least two people posted to social media about wolf encounters on the Airport Dike Trail in the last month. It’s not unusual for wolves to be in that area, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, but they are advising caution for hikers and for dog walkers to leashes.
Courtney Frost Wendel and a friend were walking Wendel’s dog Kiska on the evening of Nov. 15 when they encountered what they believe to be at least two wolves. Wendel described the encounter in a post on the Facebook page Juneau Community Collective. Kiska had run in front of Wendel and her companion after becoming “very stiff” in apparent reaction to something on or near the trail.
Wendel’s companion turned on a flashlight and scanned the field around them to see a “pair of glowing eyes” about 50 yards in front of Kiska.
“I yelled like a crazy person both for Kiska to come and kind of at the wolf,” Wendel wrote. “The wolf got up and ran down the grassy flats, and another set of eyes were just down the way, too far for the one wolf to have run in that amount of time.”
Wendel’s dog returned to her unharmed. She credits her dog’s red vest with keeping her alive.
Wendel reported the sighting to ADFG the next day. Fish and Game keeps track of wolves in the Juneau area through anecdotal accounts like Wendel’s and through harvest reports from hunters and trappers. ADFG has heard anecdotal reports this year of a wolf approaching a hunter using a deer call on the backside of Douglas Island and of a dog killed by a wolf in the Lemon Creek area.
Assistant area management biologist Carl Koch said it’s not surprising for wolves to be in the Mendenhall wetlands area. Wolves spread to Douglas Island from the mainland somehow and the Mendenhall wetlands are the easiest way for them to have made the trip. It’s the easiest path for mainland wolves to access Douglas Island, where a healthy population of deer are available for wolves to prey on.
But it is unusual for humans to come into contact with wolves. They are nocturnal animals when living near humans and generally avoid human contact. Trappers are more successful at harvesting wolves than hunters for this reason, Koch said.
Anecdotal reports of wolf sightings in Juneau have increased this year, but Koch can’t be sure whether that’s due to an increase in wolf awareness from encounters posted to social media or a reflection of a population increase in Juneau.
Fish and Game doesn’t currently conduct population studies of wolves in the Juneau area. Harvest reports show that three wolves were harvested on Douglas Island last year, while one has been harvested so far this year.
“I’d say the anecdotal reports are higher (this year) than they have been,” Koch said in a Friday interview. “Based strictly on anecdotal reports, I’d say the (wolf) population is healthy.”
When encountering a wolf stand your ground. Do not turn around or run, Koch advised, and use anything available to scare it off: throw sticks or rocks, yell, or use bear spray if necessary. If you’re walking a dog, keep it on a leash. Dogs are rarely well-disciplined enough to heed voice commands in the presence of wolves and other animals. More information about wolf safety can be found at www.adfg.alaska.gov.