When Wyoma Knight called biologist Beth Lenart at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks a few weeks ago to report an injured wolf that had been roaming around the village of Evansville, a community in the Bush about 30 miles off the Dalton Highway 200 miles northwest of Fairbanks, she was surprised by what she was told.
"She said to go ahead and shoot it," Knight said by phone on Friday. "I don't see no reasons for it to be shot. It obviously wants to live."
A perturbed Knight called the animal-rights group Friends of Animals in Darien, Conn., to see if that group would be interested in trying to save the wolf. In doing so, Knight set in motion a chain of events that has resulted in a Bush village divided over the fate of the wolf and a campaign to place the injured animal in a Lower 48 sanctuary for wolves.
"If it isn't able to be in Alaska somewhere, this is the next best solution," said Friends of Animals Executive Director Priscilla Feral from her Connecticut office. "It's better than a zoo life."
The state Department of Fish and Game, meanwhile, is considering shooting the wolf because it appears the animal is becoming habituated to humans as a result of being fed by villagers.
"Any time we have a situation where we have a wolf becoming acclimated to people as a source of food, it's potentially dangerous," said ADF&G information officer Cathie Harms.
Evansville is a suburb of Bettles, if you will, a small cluster of a half-dozen or so cabins on the outskirts of the larger village. The town's 15 residents are divided about the fate of the wolf, according to Knight.
"Some people want it shot and other people want to see it saved," she said.
The wolf, a gray female, reportedly scratched one resident when he tried to pet it after it was lured into a house, according to Trooper Curt Bedingfield with the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement in Coldfoot. Bedingfield was hoping to go to Evansville on Friday to get a look at the wolf and assess the situation.
The politics surrounding the situation earned the wolf a short reprieve, Bedingfield said.
"We are not going to shoot the wolf today," the trooper said on Friday.
But that doesn't mean the wolf won't be shot in the near future, perhaps as early as today. That decision will be up to acting Fish and Game Commissioner Wayne Regelin, who was attending a state Board of Game meeting in Anchorage on Friday and could not be reached for comment.
"We're taking a risk by not killing it because we know about it," acknowledged Bedingfield. "If that wolf attacks someone, we would be responsible."
But his orders, as of Friday, were not to shoot the wolf, the trooper said.
"Right now we're going to take that risk since it's been there a long time and it hasn't harmed anyone," Bedingfield said.
Gordon Haber, an independent wolf biologist who works for Friends of Animals in Alaska, phoned Bedingfield from Anchorage on Friday.
"He told me he was going to do everything in his power to at least see this wolf got a chance," Bedingfield said of his conversation with Haber.
Friends of Animals has already found a home for the wolf if it can be caught, Feral said. Wolf Haven International, a wolf sanctuary in Tenino, Wash., has agreed to take the wolf, she said. Friends of Animals would cover the costs, she said.
But moving the wolf would require live trapping and/or tranquilizing it, said Bedingfield. A person would have to be authorized by the Department of Fish and Game to do that, he said.
"It's out of my hands," the trooper said.
The department on Friday didn't seem eager to commit the resources needed to save the wolf.
"There's a lot of wounded animals in the state," said Harms in Fairbanks. "We can't afford to attempt to rescue every one. We're more concerned about wolf populations than individual animals."
Nobody knows how the wolf was injured. It showed up in the village several months ago with a bad leg. According to Knight, the wolf is missing a right front foot, probably as a result of being caught in a trap, she said. But Bedingfield has also heard the wolf has a broken leg.
Other than getting into some garbage and bird seed, the wolf hasn't caused any problems except for scratching the man who tried to pet it, said Knight.
"He don't mess with people or the sled dogs," she said of the wolf.
Some villagers have fed the wolf, Knight confirmed, even though they know it's against the law. Knight has seen where the wolf has killed ptarmigan and while it's thin, it doesn't appear to be starving.
"She can hunt ptarmigan and stuff, but she'll never be able to take down a moose, I don't think," Knight said. "She can't run."
According to Knight, Alaska Airlines has agreed to fly the wolf to Washington if it is caught, but that was news to the airline's director of public affairs, Susan Bramsted, in Anchorage.
"I haven't been asked to do anything," she said late Friday afternoon.
Wolf Haven interim director Carole Russo said the possibility of getting the wolf was "an exciting prospect." She didn't know of another wild wolf the sanctuary has received. Most of the 51 wolves at the sanctuary came from zoos, she said.
News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at email@example.com or 459-7587.