Living with wolves on JBER, and around Alaska
JBER — The Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson lone wolf slowly treks through the backwoods near the Moose Crossing housing community. Her slower pace tells the arthritic tale of an active lifestyle as alpha female.
The wolf rides solo — likely because she was run out of her pack. At nine years, she has outlived the flat-gray Alaska Fish and Game radio transmitter which hangs around her neck; the last signal transmitted three years ago.
From a distance she resembles a large dog — the relic around her neck adding to the confusion. Possibly a Siberian husky, maybe an Alaskan malamute — to the laymen, all likely options.
“We’ll see a picture on Facebook with someone informing of a loose dog,” said James Wendland, 673d Civil Engineer Squadron chief conservation law enforcement officer. “We’ll look at it and recognize it’s one of our wolves.”
The features that differentiate wolves from their domesticated cousins are subtle, though JBER Wildlife Conservation Agents say, if you come across what you believe to be a wolf near housing, or one acting aggressively toward people, call it in.
“Better safe than sorry,” Wendland said. “I would much rather respond to a call and determine it is a dog and not a safety issue, than ignore it and have it become a problem.”
Wolves are not prone to approach humans, he said. On the contrary, they are more likely to run from us than to venture into populated regions.
“If you see a wolf in the wild you would have seen something most will never see because they are very leery of people,” Wendland said.
While wolf encounters are rare, they have not always been such reclusive creatures on JBER.
“We’ve had issues in the past, maybe four years ago, where they were looking into people’s backyards and taking pets,” said Mark Sledge, 673d CES senior conservation law enforcement officer.
In the early 2000s a member of the JBER community was walking her dog near one of the backwoods training areas, Sledge said. A female wolf stepped out and lured her pet into the woods. In the brush the pack waited, ambushing the dog and subsequently eating him.
Most of the problems that people have had on the base are usually because they have dogs with them, he said. This is why leash laws are enacted, and why they are important for your and your pet’s safety.
“If you keep your dog on a leash, you can keep them close to you,” Sledge said. “Hopefully that will deter problem encounters.”
In 2011 a problem wolf on JBER was taken out of the gene pool by JBER WCA because of its overly aggressive nature.
“The alpha male was approaching people, teaching the other wolves to do the same,” Wendland said. “They were taking dogs, following people. Two women climbed a tree because he and another wolf were following them and they laid down waiting for them to come down. … Once (the wolf) was removed, we didn’t have any issues.”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the gray wolf population in Alaska is 7,000 to 11,000 compared to 5,505 in the Lower 48.
If you find yourself recreating and a wolf stalks, approaches or otherwise acts aggressively, keep these things in mind:
Don’t run, Sledge said. Yell, clap and let them know you’re not prey. Slowly back away, keeping constant eye contact. If you’re with a companion and multiple wolves cross your path, walk back-to-back.
Use bear spray, rocks, sticks or anything handy to fight off attacking wolves.
Climb a tree if necessary. And call for safety; wolves can’t climb trees. Photography from a distance is acceptable, though wildlife conservation agents stress to always be vigilant of your surroundings.
Per state law if you do anything to these animals to change their normal behavior it can be considered poaching and you can be fined, Wendland said.
In past years there have been cases of people tracking wolves to their dens for photo opportunities.
“We don’t want them to get hurt, and we don’t want the wolves to have to abandon the litter of pups or move because people are messing with them,” Wendland said. “Especially if they’re in an area where they are not a threat. We don’t want them to move to an area where they will be close to people.”
It is unlikely wolves who call JBER home will be leaving any time soon, Sledge said. All we can do is respect them and give them their space.
To report nuisance wildlife, call the conservation law enforcement officers at 552-2436.