A pack of wolves killed about a half-dozen sled dogs from three teams in Marshall on Wednesday night before residents of the Yukon River village chased them out of town, according to village officials and Alaska State Troopers.
The wolves killed three adult dogs, including a female with pups, several villagers said. About three of the pups were also killed and several other dogs injured.
"They were running through the whole town here," said Dewayne Cooper, the housing improvement officer for the Native Village of Marshall. "They're not just hanging out by the dog teams. I don't know what they're looking for, but they're obviously not scared."
A group of about 15 people killed at least one of the wolves and wounded several, said Maureen Larson, who works for the Marshall Traditional Council.
The wolves -- it was unclear exactly how many there were -- appeared in town early in the evening Wednesday, about 6 or 7 p.m., when they were seen skulking near housing in the northeast portion of town, Larson said.
Some kids shot at them and scared them off, she said.
But around 8:30 p.m. they were back to begin their assault on three of the village's five dog teams, said musher Clem Kameroff, whose dogs were attacked.
Kameroff said he keeps 11 dogs and seven pups and uses his team for fishing and hauling wood. Most of them were inside a fence, but two were in kennels outside the barrier because it was too crowded, he said.
"I heard the dogs barking real hard, but I thought it was just a dog that got loose," Kameroff said.
He went outside and found the exposed dogs had been attacked. One was a 2-year-old male that was slightly injured. The other was a 10-year-old female.
"That was sort of my leader," Kameroff said. "Now it's all bloody and can't move around. I might have to get rid of it. It's too painful watching it barely move around."
Troopers got the report of the invading wolves Thursday morning, wildlife trooper Sgt. Matt Dobson said by phone from Bethel.
"I said, 'Go and get 'em. It's season,' " Dobson said. "We encourage people to hunt predators legally."
Licensed hunters are allowed to take five wolves in Game Unit 18 per year, he said, and the no-limit trapping season is about to start Nov. 10. Killing the marauding wolves would be justified as being in defense of property, Dobson said.
Dobson said the area near Marshall is rife with wolves because the moose population is exploding to the point that officials are worried about overpopulation. But wolves are still generally shy and reclusive, he said, and a pack wandering into a town is "extremely unusual."
Despite that, troopers get about four or five reports of wolves attacking domesticated animals on the outskirts of villages each year, Dobson said. They often attack in late fall or early winter when there is little snow on the ground, because deep snow makes it harder for prey such as moose to move -- and easier to kill.
Dogs tied up on an 18-inch chain are simply too good to pass up, he said.
"These wolves have more than enough to eat," he said. "It's just an easy treat for them."
Now, villagers are concerned that the wolves, having tasted that easy treat, might be back. A group of hunters went out on four-wheelers Thursday to track the wolves and engage in some "preventative maintenance," Cooper said.
"I don't think it's over yet," he said. "They were in downtown Marshall, they were in uptown Marshall, they were all over town."
Marshall, with a population of about 390, is a largely subsistence village about 400 miles west of Anchorage on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
On Thursday, children were walking to school with adults and in groups in case the wolves returned, Larson said, though by early evening, there were no reports of any being seen.
"We've had these problems for the past three or four years, but this is the worst we've ever had with them coming into the village," she said. "It's unbelievable. We're freaking out."