An increase in the number of attacks on dogs in the community has sparked concerns about the behavior of a pack of wolves frequenting the area. The pack of six wolves, commonly known as the Elmendorf pack, is being blamed for the recent attacks, which included a pair of dog deaths.
While the death of a family pet is tragic, state officials said following some simple guidelines could have prevented the attacks and may prevent subsequent dog deaths.
Chugach State Park superintendent Tom Harrison reminds people to remember where they are.
"The mountains of Chugach State Park provide a beautiful backdrop to Anchorage and the surrounding communities," he said. "They also remind us that, although we live in an urban setting, we really reside in the middle of a vast wilderness."
Alaska Department of Fish and Game area wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott said keeping dogs under control is typically all it takes to prevent attacks.
"If you venture into an area where there is a known wolf pack, the least someone can do is keep dogs on a leash," he said. "That is especially important with the recent string of attacks. Even the best-trained dogs are prone to wandering off and exploring new territory."
Leashes are required in both the Chugach State Park and on Municipality of Anchorage park lands.
"Technically, every dog is supposed to be on a leash and under control when in the Beach Lake Recreation Area," said John Rodda, director of Eagle River-Chugiak Parks, Recreation and Community Development. "In fact, dogs shouldn't be on the Beach Lake trails during the winter once they've been groomed for skiing."
Anchorage Municipal code states, "It is unlawful for any animal to be in a public place unless it is controlled by a leash, and in the control of a person competent to restrain the animal."
In 2003, the Anchorage Assembly established a number of areas for off-leash dog activity in Anchorage. The designated areas include University Lake Park, Far North Bicentennial Park, Russian Jack Park, Connors Bog and South Anchorage Sports Park.
While keeping dogs leashed will limit the potential encounters with wolves, Sinnott is still cautious about a pattern he has seen in the recent attacks.
"Our big concern is the proximity to people that the attacks are occurring," Sinnott said. "Wolves are typically skittish around people, so that is cause for concern. But keeping dogs close when walking trails should prevent deadly encounters."
The wolf encounters began Nov. 28, when a couple was walking with three dogs along the Alaska Railroad tracks near Eklutna. Sinnott said the dogs chased a large black wolf, which had appeared on the trail 50 yards ahead of the couple. One of the dogs was killed, and the others returned, when called by their owners.
More recently, Dec. 5, a woman was walking with her dog near Artillery Road and the Eagle River gate to Fort Richardson. The dog fell behind during the trek, and the rustling of bushes, followed by the image of a wolf crossing the path served as a sign of the dog's fate.
According to Sinnott, wolves from the same pack are also believed to have been involved in other incidents, including fighting with three dogs near Bartlett High School and stalking hikers with dogs, but not engaging them, during a Dec. 8 venture into the wilderness northeast of Anchorage.
Another individual reported spotting a pair of wolves while walking along a lighted loop of the Beach Lake trail system Dec. 4 with her dog.
"The best things people can do to prevent additional attacks is to simply be aware of where they are and what is around them, so they are not surprised," Sinnott said. "This is not extraordinary behavior for wolves, typically there are several stray dogs killed by wolves each year. But a little caution can keep dogs and owners safe."
While Sinnott said the recent number of attacks on dogs seems unusual, the bigger danger is moose.
"A moose, especially one with a calf, is much more of a threat than a wolf to both humans and dogs when walking on dark trails in the middle of winter," he said. "There are typically 50 to 60 dogs trampled by moose each winter."
He added that the threat to humans from a wolf is typically low.
"Not to discount that wolves pose a danger to humans," he said. "But it is fairly rare for a non-rabid wolf to attack or threaten a human."
Sinnott said he could only recall two cases in recent years when a wolf attacked a human in Alaska.
According to Sinnott, there are approximately 30 wolves living in the Anchorage area in four or five packs. He added that only two packs regularly come into contact with people. One is the Ship Creek pack, which roams the Chugach Mountains near Hiland Road and Fort Richardson. The other is the Elmendorf pack, known as such because it frequents Elmendorf Air Force Base, though it ranges across Fort Richardson as far north as the Palmer Hay Flats and possibly beyond.
"We had a similar problem with wolves from the Elmendorf pack 10 to12 years back," Sinnott said. "We were able to relocate a couple wolves and that seemed to send the signal to the rest of the pack that being around humans was not safe and brought an end to the attacks."
Sinnott added that if the wolves continue to be aggressive and show an increased aggression toward humans, fish and game will address the problem, but right now, they have no plan to take action apart from cautioning people.
As for people taking action against a wolf on their own, Sinnott warns individuals to follow state law carefully.
"You can't shoot a wolf on sight," he said. "The law says there has to be a serious threat or an attack of the life on an individual or animal before someone can take action and shoot a wolf. The best thing to do is call the police or fish and game to deal with overly aggressive animals."
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