Wolf found shot on Thane Road

Genetic tests planned to determine if body belongs to Romeo

Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2006

The discovery of a dead, illegally shot black wolf next to Juneau's Thane Road this week has sparked local outrage and a state wildlife investigation.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the shooting on Wednesday and the state Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement is looking for suspects.

The black wolf, discovered next to Thane Road on Monday, was likely shot on Sunday, biologists said Wednesday.

Many in Juneau fear the dead animal is Romeo, Juneau's celebrity wolf. Genetic tests are planned to determine if the dead wolf is indeed the solitary black male that has frequented the Mendenhall Valley since 2003, state biologists said.

If this wolf is Romeo - nicknamed for his apparent "love" of dogs - "this is a real feeling of letdown for the whole community," said Laurie Craig, a Juneau naturalist.

Law enforcement officers want anyone with information about the shooting to call their Juneau post at (907) 465-4000, said state Trooper Todd Machacek.

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The shooter of the wolf broke several state hunting regulations: taking a wolf out of season; failing to salvage a game animal; and possibly killing big game within a quarter-mile of a road. All are misdemeanor offenses, punishable by a $10,000 fine and a year in jail.

The shooting also may have violated a city rule that bans the discharge of a gun within a quarter-mile of a public road.

Thane residents said Wednesday the dead wolf was first discovered Monday by a berry picker who found it lying next to a pullout on Thane Road, just north of Sheep Creek.

After talking to the berry picker, a Thane resident reported the carcass to Juneau Animal Control staff, who then contacted Fish and Game.

A necropsy of the wolf showed it was fatally shot two or three times, in the skull and back, said Fish and Game Juneau area management biologist Neil Barten.

The stomach contents showed the wolf had recently eaten fish and deer, Barten said.

"It's really sad. I don't know why somebody would do this," Thane resident Paula Terrel said.

A Thane neighbor reported seeing a black wolf coming out a neighborhood driveway a few days earlier, Terrel said.

"We think this (shooting) happened along Thane," Terrel said.

Right now, it's impossible to tell whether the wolf was killed along Thane Road or dumped there after it was shot in another location, Barten said.

He sent the wolf pelt to a Fairbanks biologist to determine if it was lice-infested. Romeo was suspected to have lice, due to some discoloration seen on his fur in the past winter.

Barten also plans to send off a tooth to determine the wolf's age; for genetic analysis, hair and tissue samples from the wolf found along Thane Road will be compared with samples previously collected from Romeo. The genetic analysis could take up to several months, Barten said.

Illegal wolf shootings are not uncommon in Southeast Alaska. In fact, illegal wolf killings could be a third of the total wolf harvest in the region, said Dave Persons, Tongass National Forest biologist.

In a 1993-2001 study of 59 radio-collared wolves, 34 of the animals were killed by trapping and hunting.

"Half of those were killed illegally," Persons said.

In three instances, Persons found wolves shot dead in the live traps he had set for his scientific work along Prince of Wales Island logging roads. Some people dislike wolves because they are predators, he said.

Many in Juneau had a different attitude about wolves.

For example, many in town erupted in outrage in 2002 when a trapper legally killed a pack of wolves - at the time, a popular subject for local wildlife viewing - on Douglas Island.

Another wolf debate cropped up in Juneau last year, when Romeo was accused by a pet owner of killing his miniature beagle. The pet owner asked that the wolf be killed or relocated. No such action was taken. Hikers and skiers continued to allow their dogs to play with the black wolf.

"This little niche made perfect sense to him in the winter," said Nick Jans, a Juneau author and wildlife advocate who has written a couple of magazine essays about the black wolf frequenting Mendenhall Lake.

The black wolf was easily spotted in the winter, when vegetation was covered in snow and people walked and skied on the lake.

Wolves can range up to 100 square miles, depending on their food sources. All of the major drainages around Juneau - from the Katzehin to the Taku River - are believed to contain wolf packs, biologists said Wednesday.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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