Black wolf near glacier brings locals delight - and some concern

Posted: Sunday, January 11, 2004

No matter how friendly the lone black wolf recently spotted near the Mendenhall Glacier seems, people should keep their distance, the local wildlife biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game said Friday.

"Who knows the disposition of a wolf?" Neil Barten said.

Larry Musarra, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center director, said the wolf itself doesn't pose a threat, but he is concerned that it is seems to be getting more receptive to people.

"This lake is pretty popular, and (the wolf) seems to be getting less shy," he said.

Musarra said he first saw the wolf on Nov. 20. Since then he has heard lots of reports of sightings. He also has heard it howling in the night.

Juneau resident Nick Jans, a contributing editor to Alaska Magazine who has long observed wolves in the wild, said he has enjoyed watching this wolf. He said he hopes people keep their distance from the wolf, but appreciate it as a "rare experience" and not a threat to the community.

"He's truly remarkable," Jans said of the wolf, adding that he knows other people are excited about seeing the wolf. "He's a wild animal. By choice he's making himself accessible to people."

Jans believes the biggest danger is that people will misunderstand the wolf and harm it. People should keep their distance, but it certainly isn't "the big bad wolf," he said. Nearby residents shouldn't be afraid that it will eat their pets, he added.

Barten said he sees no reason to trap the wolf, and if he relocated it, the animal could return anyway.

"There's really nothing we can do. If it starts initiating contact with people or pets in an aggressive manner, we'll re-evaluate," Barten said. Where it is, "the animal is pretty safe," he added.

People can't legally hunt the wolf in its current location, he said. Trapping is prohibited up to the top of Mount McGinnis, and hunters are prohibited from shooting the animal within a quarter-mile of Mendenhall Lake or a half-mile from a roadway.

But there is a possibility that people and their pets getting too close could lead to a problem. If people let their dogs run up to the wolf, "sooner or later a pet may get bitten by the animal," Barten said.

That wouldn't be good for the pet, and it wouldn't be good for the wolf, which would have to be killed.

"I don't know if people are feeding it or not," Barten said. But he has heard reports that the wolf has approached people.

Barten, who hadn't seen the animal when this article was prepared, said he isn't even sure it is a wolf, although he said it is "wolf-like." The animal could be a wolf-dog hybrid.

Jans said he is sure the Mendenhall Lake wolf is no hybrid.

"He looks 100 percent wolf," he said.

The wolf is surviving well as a hunter, with evidence that it has been subsisting on coho salmon, beavers and rabbits.

"Killing a beaver or a rabbit is not foraging," Jans said. "This is not somebody's pet."



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