ANCHORAGE - Rick Sinnott doesn't mince words when he describes what happened to wolves who prowled along Glenn Highway this fall and winter.
"They really got whacked," said Sinnott, area wildlife biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game.
Vehicles killed at least six wolves along a roughly half-mile stretch of the highway outside Anchorage, a degree of carnage wolf experts have never seen in a single season anywhere in Alaska. The carcasses serve as a reminder that even though commuters zip along the six-lane highway each day at 70 miles an hour, the woods on either side remain wild Alaska.
The victims were likely from a single pack that moves along a broad territory east of Glenn Highway between Eagle River and Anchorage, Sinnott said. The pack had recently grown to at least a dozen wolves and may have been expanding its hunting grounds.
"It could be just that the road happens to be here, but they need more territory so they're moving a little bit more than usual across the road," Sinnott said.
In the Anchorage area, Glenn Highway separates two packs of gray wolves that roam Fort Richardson, searching for hares, beavers and moose just north of Alaska's largest city. The wolves have long been known to slip across the busy freeway, disappearing in the birch, willows and cottonwood that frame it.
They den in the mountains east of the highway, fanning out like spokes of a wheel to hunt. In the winter, they band together to kill moose but are happy to scavenge what's left behind by hunters.