Wolf Song of Alaska News

Time in Rural Alaska Brings Firsthand Knowledge of Wolves

Jan Thacker  / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / January 12, 2008

When my husband was a kid, his brother, who was a dozen years older, trapped mountain lions.

Troy grew up with a she-lion and her cub that were kept in cages at the family gas station in Columbia Falls, Montana. All I ever had was a dumb dog and a few cats but Troy spent one summer posing for tourists with a pet lion cub by his side.

I don't recall anyone ever taking a photo of me and my cat, Pumpkin. Trapping mountain lions and other predators was common in the 1950s and there were seldom any incidents of the outdoor public having close encounters with them. Now cougars are seen in neighborhoods and on trails and are increasingly becoming entangled with man. And these cougars aren't nearly as friendly as the ones the Thacker clan hand-raised. They're the kind that you see crouching on cliffs waiting for unsuspecting fools to stroll by.

As population areas expand ever outward in Montana and more and more laws are made protecting these animals or regulating their depredation, the lion populations increase.

It is interesting that much the same thing is happening up here with the wolves. The hills are dotted with houses and roads. Within 20 years maybe there will be a McDonalds on top of Murphy Dome.

The state, maybe hesitant because of the uninformed public outcry reaching Alaska from around the world, is cautious in controlling wolves. But human population expansion plus lack of wolf control equals these fellows setting up housekeeping in our back yards.

I've lived with wolves in my back yard - and foxes at the kitchen door and bears on the front porch. What I know about most of the beasts of Interior and North Slope Alaska comes firsthand from living in Coldfoot for six years.

Until then I realized wolves were a predator but I didn't understand the extent of their zest for killing. Wolves are like cats - absolutely thrilled with the chase and the playful execution of their quarry. They are incredibly intelligent and have developed complicated team tactics for bringing down a kill.

But wolves aren't the thrifty beasts that many believe they are. A lot of people have the idea that a pack of wolves spends lazy days frolicking and basking in the sun and only kills when hunger pangs make it necessary. They have the idea that wolves eat every single morsel of a downed moose and maybe even use the hide for bedding.

It wasn't unusual in Coldfoot to find a wolf-killed moose with nothing eaten but the salty-flavored nose. I saw photos of at least a half dozen caribou calves that had been slaughtered and just the genitals eaten. Newborn musk ox calves were prime targets.

We saw a lot of wolves during our years up north. Most often we spotted them on the North Slope, loping across the tundra, but sometimes they'd cross ahead of our vehicle on the Haul Road.

In the winter you could see the path where they circled Coldfoot endlessly, watching us, studying us. One time we peeked from an upstairs window when a gorgeous black wolf came into the back yard and approached our dog kennels, stealthily going from one dog to the next. The dogs sat perfectly still and didn't bark. After a time the wolf walked to the edge of the yard, turned to look at the dogs a final time, and then disappeared like a wisp of smoke whispering to the wind.

I loved the wolves, and I understood that their bad eating habits - never cleaning their plates - were just a result of their natural instincts.

Predator control is vitally necessary in Alaska. No matter how an outsider views the value of the majestic wolf he surely should understand that to many Alaskans, the availability of moose and caribou makes the difference in having, or not having, meat on the table.

Atrociously high fuel prices make it absolutely imperative that everything is done to ensure Alaskans can feed their families. If it comes to a wolf feasting on a moose nose or a family of four living for a year on that same moose, I'm sorry but the wolf just can't be invited to the party.

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