Predator run-ins threaten hikers in the Chugach

Denali wolf. (NPS Photo/ Tim Rains)

(NPS Photo/ Tim Rains)

A Fish and Game biologist says three wolves appear to have killed a hiker’s dog before stalking the dog’s owner on a popular trail just outside Anchorage last month. Another hiker’s account of a similar incident on a nearby trail may leave some wondering if canid predators are a growing threat on local trails.

The first reported incident occurred about a month ago during the afternoon as a hiker was making his way up to Wolverine Peak in Chugach State Park with his two dogs.

One of the dogs, a jack russell, went missing for a couple of minutes. When the owner backtracked to look for her, he saw another type of canine. Fish and Game biologist Dave Battle took the report.

“He at first thought it was a coyote. As he looked at it he realized it was too big to be a coyote, he figured it was a wolf. And then he realized there were two more of them near the first one.”

The wolves saw the hiker, too.

“After about a minute or so they started approaching and he started retreating back up toward the ridge at a slow walk, initially. The wolves started picking up speed and trotting along and he started jogging, which is something we recommend against,” Battle says.

Battle says running is what prey usually does, and it may trigger a chase response from the wolves.

The wolves were within 30 feet when the hiker stopped retreating and stood his ground. The conflict dissipated shortly after.

The following day, the hiker went back to the trail to recover the carcass of one of his dogs, close to where he first saw the wolves. Battle says it had not been fed on.

Around the same time the hiker’s dog was fatally attacked, Anchorage hiker Molly Liston had a similar experience on a nearby trail.

Liston was hiking with her two dogs when she noticed she was being stalked.

“I just had this feeling that these aren’t dogs running up towards me,” Liston says.

She thought the animals were wolves at first due to their large size. She later decided they were coyotes based on the yipping noises they made. Liston started making her way back to the trailhead, periodically stopping to yell at the two animals following her.

“I’d take about five steps, turn around, yell, wave my arms and yell “NO!” Take about five steps, wave my arms and say NO.”

Liston couldn’t see the two animals the whole time she was retreating down the trail, but she knew one was on either side of her by the glimpses she did get.

“I almost get over to the other trail and my dog, Tallie, decided to go back and kind of see what was going on… and that’s when they almost got her. They were about 5 feet away from lunging and getting her. Again I just screamed “NO” and started running towards them,” she says.

Liston made a frantic call to a family member to meet her at the trailhead. The whole encounter lasted about 20 minutes.

Based on the noises Liston says she was hearing from the animals, wildlife biologist Dave Battle says the animals were likely coyotes. But he also says reports of coyotes harassing dogs or people in the backcountry are rare.

One of the most difficult parts of Battle’s job is confirming wildlife sightings, especially when it comes to wolves versus coyotes.

“Some people know exactly what they’re seeing. Some people can tell easily the difference between coyotes and wolves; other people might not have had as much experience and know exactly,” Battle says.

Battle advises hikers to stand their ground if they think they’re encountering either species. He also says pepper spray is effective as long as it’s deployed when the animal is in range.

A representative from Chugach State Park said they have not posted any warning signs for wolf activity at Anchorage area trail heads.

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