Mendenhall Wolf Growing Used to Humans and Dogs

If wolf doesn't return to wild, biologists will have to consider its relocation

Christine Schmid / Juneau Empire / February 15, 2004

The wolf that first enchanted Mendenhall Lake visitors last June now is drawing too much attention, U.S. Forest Service officials said.

"It's very exciting - people don't often get a chance to see wolves," said Dennis Chester, a wildlife biologist for the Juneau Ranger District of the Forest Service. "... But my preference is for people to leave it alone and not encourage it, so it can go back to being a wild wolf."

The cold spurts earlier this year that caused Mendenhall Lake to freeze allowed many Juneau residents to get a close look at the wolf, which has been spotted on the east and west sides of the lake.

Recently, the wolf has been approaching dogs and following humans.

"The wolf has become habituated," said Michelle Warrenchuk, the information assistant at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. She sees the wolf several times a week.

"People have let their pets interact with the wolf. There have been reports that people have been feeding the wolf," she said.

Wolves near Juneau feed mostly on deer but supplement their diet with beaver, goat and snowshoe hare, Chester said. After an inspection of the Mendenhall Lake wolf's scat, biologists believe its diet has been supplemented with dog food.

Feeding a wolf or game animal is a violation of state law punishable by a $110 fine, according to Alaska State Troopers.

No incidents between the wolf and dogs or humans have been reported to the Juneau Ranger District, said David Zuniga, district law enforcement officer.

"The majority of people understand that he's out there, and they do take all the precautions necessary," he said.

Those precautions include keeping dogs on leashes, hiking in groups and backing away slowly if the wolf approaches, Zuniga said.

The Forest Service has had one report of people letting their dogs loose near the wolf in hopes of breeding the animals, said Zuniga.

"We'd like to get people to understand that it's not illegal to mate (a dog) with the wolf, but it's illegal to have any wolf hybrid dogs," he said.

Biologists have been unable to identify the sex of the wolf, and can only guess why the wolf - normally a pack animal - is hanging out solo by the lake, Chester said.

"My suspicion is that it got separated from the pack for some reason and has found some easy food and some company from the dogs that are out there, and that's why it's sticking around," Chester said.

But as friendly as the wolf can seem, it is still a wild animal, Chester said.

"We're coming into the breeding season and its behavior could change," he said. "It could become more aggressive."

Ideally, the wolf soon will go back to the wild and avoid humans, Chester said. If it doesn't, biologists from the Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will have to consider whether trapping the animal and relocating it is feasible.

"It's kind of like a half-domesticated wolf at this point," he said. Such a creature may have trouble fitting in with an established pack of wolves in another area.

Whether the wolf poses a health threat to domestic dogs is unclear.

Lisa Kramer, a veterinarian at the Southeast Alaska Veterinary Clinic, worries for the safety of the wolf as it becomes more comfortable with humans, but she and the other veterinarians at her practice have not seen any dogs with wolf-related health problems, she said.

"Health-wise, the only thing I'd be worried about is a bite," Kramer said. "I wouldn't really worry about them catching anything at all."

Christine Schmid can be reached at

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