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Polson woman spots wolves in her backyard

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POLSON — On Dec. 28, Joyce Norman was sitting with her legs draped over the arm of a favorite overstuffed chair when she noticed deer rushing through her yard.

“Wow,” she thought, “the whole herd of them.” Following the 23 deer were a black wolf and a large gray wolf wearing a yellow radio collar.

Norman and her husband Bob live on Hillcrest Lane, and it’s not unusual for deer to cross their property on their way to the Beauvais-Decker Catholic cemetery or up the hill to Skyline Drive. But this was the first time Norman had seen the deer running as fast as they could.

She called the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and wildlife biologist George Barce responded to the call, measuring and photographing the tracks. The spacing between the two sets of tracks, the size and the gait were consistent with wolf tracks, according to a press release from the CSKT. The tracks were within the size range of wolf tracks, but definitive verification of the source was not possible.

Norman found more tracks on Sunday, Dec. 29, and Barce returned Jan. 2 to examine those, too.

“I would say most likely these are wolf tracks,” Barce said, smiling and adding that a wildlife biologist always leaves a little hedge room.

Norman measured the tracks of her standard poodle, Tara, which were about 3 inches. Then she measured the wolf tracks, which were closer to 8 inches.

Norman was concerned about the proximity of school bus stops and children running around with a predator on the loose.

There has never been a wolf sighting in Polson that Barce knew of, and there has never been a wolf attack on a person in the lower 48 states, although there have been in Alaska and also Canada, according to Barce.

Barce and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks wolf biologist Kent Laudon think deer may have drawn the wolves near people.

For people in Polson concerned that the wolves are establishing a territory, Laudon said to remember that the average pack encompasses about 200 square miles and focuses mainly on areas with a lot of deer. Wolf packs tend to stay away from people.

“Mostly, wolves hunt big game,” Laudon said, “but they are certainly opportunistic.”

Covering this much territory, it’s possible these wolves dispersed from one of several wolf packs in Northwest Montana. Laudon said there is a pack west of Flathead Lake, the Dry Forks pack ranging from Lonepine to Dog Lake, the Garden pack, the South Camas Prairie pack, and southwest of Arlee is the Sleeping Woman pack, also the Pistol Creek pack and the Bisson pack east of Flathead Lake.


“If you see a wolf, they’re trying to stay away from you,” Barce explained.

He said a mountain lion in your backyard is more dangerous than a wolf. Wolves are not a primary threat to people, so it’s not a great cause of concern except for canine pets. Wolves are territorial and will beat up, run off or even kill domestic dogs, coyotes or even other wolves.

The yellow collar on the wolf Norman saw may provide some information. Laudon has been emailing wildlife officials in other states to see if anyone has been using yellow radio collars on their wolves and found out that Idaho officials used radio collars covered with yellow electrical tape in February of 2011. If Idaho FWP can provide Laudon with frequencies for the collar, he can take a helicopter and locate the wolf with the collar, “always assuming that it is wolves.”

As far as the two wolves go, Laudon said he would guess they are a breeding pair. Wolf packs start when a female from one pack and a male from another disperse, or leave their packs, find each other and move to unoccupied wolf territory.

“They’re pretty social critters,” Laudon said.

Wolves’ breeding season is in February. With a gestation period of 61 to 63 days, four to seven pups are born in April. A new pack forms from the breeding pair and their pups from different years. Sometimes, Laudon explained, they also take in other “stranger” wolves.

The CSKT press release advises people to do everything they can to avoid habituating wolves in the first place. Don’t let them get too close or become comfortable around human dwellings or inhabited areas. As with all wildlife, the press release advises the public to not provide food sources.

If a person is approached by a wolf or surprises a wolf, they are advised to:

• stand tall and make yourself look larger

• act aggressively towards it, by making noise and throwing sticks and stones

• calmly, but slowly, back away and maintain eye contact

• if the wolf does not run away immediately, continue making yourself large, maintaining eye contact and backing away

• do not turn your back on the wolf and do not run away

Despite currently being protected by both Montana and CSKT laws, wolves that are aggressive towards humans can be killed in self-defense when there is imminent danger of harm to humans or to domestic animals.

The CSKT Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation requests that the public report any sightings or signs of wolves within 24 hours. A gray wolf is, on average, about 2.5 feet tall, 5 to 6 feet long and weighs approximately 70 to 120 pounds. Wolves have a broad snout, round ears, and fur ranging in color from gray, black or tan to white.

For more information on wolf management, contact Dale Becker or Germaine White at (406) 883-2888 during business hours or (406) 675-4700 after hours.  

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