Juneau & the wolf

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2008

Five winters back, Nick Jans was one of the earliest Juneau residents to notice, and encourage, a certain friendliness in a young black wolf that hung out at Mendenhall Lake.

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Andrew Krueger / Juneau Empire
Andrew Krueger / Juneau Empire

He threw tennis balls, and enjoyed having the wolf follow him back to his house by the lake. And then came a change of heart.

"A light switch went off. And I thought, 'I'm not doing the right thing,'" Jans said.

He began to keep the wolf at bay, shaking a ski pole when it approached.

Since then the wolf, whom some refer to as Romeo, has been suspected in the disappearance of a beagle and a Pomeranian, and he was photographed carrying someone's pug last year. Whether he harmed the first two dogs is debated, and some said he was baited in the incident of the pug, who survived.

But many people have not taken these events as reason to stay away, as the wolf continues to befriend their dogs.

"It's kind of a little roughhousing, alittle bit of chasing, some sparring," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Ryan Scott. "What I've seen hasn't appeared to be aggressive."

Fish and Game's message is the same as the conclusion Jans came to: Enjoy the wolf - from a distance. Don't send your dogs to play with him.

People don't know what could happen if the wolf is provoked, even accidentally. Or a person who wants to harm the wolf could take advantage of how comfortable he is around people, said Fish and Game officials and those who have been around the animal.

Scott sent a reminder message out to the public this week after he got a call that someone had been feeding the wolf.

Posters concerning the wolf appeared this winter on local bulletin boards, authored by a group called "Friends of Romeo." The posters, and a Jan. 7 bulletin put out by the group, claimed Fish and Game had decided to dart and relocate the wolf. This, the posters said, would surely be the animal's death.

Fish and Game officials denied they had such intentions.

Kim Turley, a co-author of the posters, said he had since smoothed things out with the department and was now assured there would be no darting or relocating. Friends of Romeo is providing information on sightings to the department, he said.

"I don't want Friends of Romeo to be a burden to them," he said. "I want them to be a help."

Turley said he doesn't know how big the group is. The Friends of Romeo do not meet in person, but have an active e-mail forum, he said.

Scott said the department has never considered actively managing the wolf.

"That's simply not true," he said. "We're in a monitoring mode."

The management, he said, is up to residents.

"Each person who wants to go out there and watch the wolf has to take responsibility of how they go about doing that," he said.

How people interact is not always satisfactory, in the eyes of local outdoorsman Harry Robinson, who has known the wolf a long time and keeps a log of his sightings. The wolf has followed him on long trips, even to the top of Mount McGuiness.

"I'm seeing a lot of unruly dogs out that people have very limited control over," he said.

For instance, he saw three golden retrievers run after the wolf and growl at it, he said. The situation was tense. But the owner was nonchalant at the suggestion of leashing his dogs, according to Robinson.

The danger, said Jans, is not to people.

"You could tie a pork chop to your head and lie down in the snow, and nothing would happen to you," he said.

He changed his ways out of worry for the habituated wolf.

"The wrong person is going to become scared or intolerant," he said. "And this wolf will be killed as a result."





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