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Know the West

Lupophobia blues

  I thought that Alaska was crazy over wolves, and yes, they still are, but in Catron County, where I now spend my winters, things are crazier yet (HCN, 2/04/08).

I'm not sure how the threatened child issue became so prominent in Catron County. Of course, wolves could kill a child, or an adult, for that matter, but they almost never do. In the vast majority of Alaska, where wolves are legally trapped and shot, the impetus for the killing is to leave more wild ungulates available for human harvest. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone up there worry about wolves attacking people. In 20 years of living year-round just outside of Denali National Park, some of the wolfiest country on earth, the worst problem I had with wolves was having them steal a frozen bison head I'd left in my yard. I estimate it weighed around 75 pounds, and one of the wolves picked it up and walked away with it.

Within Denali Park, on the other hand, where wolves have been protected for many decades, we have the same habituation problems described by Catron County ranchers. In the park, it's not unheard of to have wolves walk right by hikers. I had one almost climb onto my bus one evening while I was sitting around with the door open. One of the campgrounds in the park has been closed for years, and another only open to hard-shell camping because wolves had been hanging around consistently, taking items from tents and probably getting food. The National Park Service is rightly very concerned about liability, and would much prefer that the wolves go drag down a caribou instead of lurking around campgrounds. It's worth noting that even with this high level of wolf/human contact, there have been no aggressive incidents. But in the fullness of time, everything that can happen will happen ...

In the meantime, Catron kids are a lot more likely to be killed by vehicles than by wolves. And that ain't likely to change.

Alan Seegert
Glenwood, New Mexico, and Denali Park, Alaska