Category Archives: wolves

Safe from bears? Don’t fall for it — Delayed onset of winter weather leaves nature stuck in autumn

Redoubt Reporter file photos By mid-November, most bears are in their dens for winter. This year, however, a late onset of winter has extended bear activity, as well.

Redoubt Reporter file photos
By mid-November, most bears are in their dens for winter. This year, however, a late onset of winter has extended bear activity, as well.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

By the calendar, it’s winter in Alaska. Usually by the end of November, the Kenai Peninsula has gotten at least one coating of a couple inches of snow and marked temperatures dipping into the teens or single digits. But this year, winter as usual has yet to arrive. With temperatures in the 30s and just a scant dusting of snow, it feels more like October than nearly December, and wildlife aren’t falling for it supposedly being winter.

Bears, in particular, are still in fall activity mode.

“We had reports last week of bears getting in to garbage or Dumpsters,” said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna, on Monday.

A brown bear was reported getting into Dumpsters and breaking into a garage seeking garbage stored inside in a neighborhood about five miles out Funny River Road, Selinger said.

The Kenai Peninsula Bears page on Facebook has a few reports of bear sightings, as well, including a black bear checking out a neighbor’s chickens on St. Theresa Road in Sterling, posted Nov. 19. Another black bear was seen heading into Woodland Estates in Kenai, posted Nov. 19, and a walker reported seeing fresh bear tracks near Hidden Creek on Nov. 4.

Selinger said that his office gets reports of bears out and about every month of the year on the Kenai, so there’s no guaranteed safe period when all bears are tucked away for the winter, but most by now are denned up for the winter.

“Generally speaking, the majority of your animals, by about mid-November, most should be in the den. Some animals go in a little earlier than others, but usually by now they’re all pretty much denned up,” he said.

“Daylight, snow cover, how much fat they have on them — there’s a lot of factors that can play into it. Usually they want to wait until the ground freezes a little bit and makes it better for digging dens, they don’t cave in as easily. It’s a lot of factors all rolled into one. Generally speaking, the warmer it is the more likely they are to stay out longer,” Selinger said.

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‘Among wolves’ offers window to wild — New book profiles enigmatic biologist and his long-term career of field study

Redoubt Reporter file photo by Joseph Robertia. A wolf in Denali National Park and Preserve carries a meal from a caribou kill. Wolf sightings have become far less frequent over recent years in the park, from about 44 percent of visitors in 2010 seeing wolves to 4 percent in 2013.

Redoubt Reporter file photo by Joseph Robertia. A wolf in Denali National Park and Preserve carries a meal from a caribou kill. Wolf sightings have become far less frequent over recent years in the park, from about 44 percent of visitors in 2010 seeing wolves to 4 percent in 2013.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

To Marybeth Holleman, author of “Among Wolves,” the question she most wanted to answer in writing her book about Alaska wolf biologist Dr. Gordon Haber wasn’t what sparked his 43-year, single-minded, life-consuming career studying wolves in the wilds of Alaska. That part was obvious from a mere glance at his field notes, which offer a captivating window into the behaviors, adaptations and interactions of these fascinating and controversial creatures.

Haber explains his interest himself in one of the passages of the book, which is a combination of Haber’s research notes, reports and writings compiled and edited by Holleman, and Holleman’s own interviews and research about her subject.

Wolves enhance, “The ability of our surroundings to evoke the sense of wonder that helps us not just to live, but to be alive,” Haber once wrote.

“I was struck not just by his knowledge of wolves but also by his passion for wolves. He had been studying them for so long but he never lost that initial sense of wonder and that passion for his research, and that really struck me,” Holleman said during a presentation about her book at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus on April 2.

That drive struck early. In high school Haber wrote an essay on his life goals, saying, “‘I have decided on one factor, this being that I intend to live a major portion of my life either in or near the outdoors,’” Holleman said. “And that he did.”

Haber began his wolf research in Alaska in 1966 and continued it until his death when his research plane crashed in Denali in 2009. Summer and winter found Haber backpacking into Denali National Park and Preserve, via skis, snowshoes or hiking boots, spending thousands of hours observing his subjects. Once radio collaring began, Haber contracted a pilot and conducted much farther-reaching surveys from above, observing up to 18 wolf groups in the 6-million-acre park and preserve, as well as the Yukon–Charley Rivers National Preserve, Fortymile region and other areas where the state conducted predator control programs.

All the while he remained an independent scientist with private backers funding his research — such as the Friends of Animals — but eschewing any limitations or directions placed on his work, Holleman said.

“All that time gives him unassailable, experiential authority to tell us something about wolves,” she said.

Colleagues thought him meticulous, with a depth of knowledge to match his wealth of experience — and also enigmatic, being somewhat of a lone wolf himself. When he came to Alaska from Michigan in the 1960s, Haber met with pioneer wolf researcher Adolph Murie, who had turned his studies into the landmark book, “The Wolves of Mount McKinley.” Haber took up observation of the same wolves, the Toklats, that Murie had been studying since the 1920s, creating 70 years of continuous research. That makes the Toklats, along with Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees, the oldest known, longest-studied, large-animal social group in the world, Holleman said.

“Which is, as you can imagine, of inestimable scientific value,” she said.

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Kenai wolves pack ups, downs — Population sees extinction to re-establishment, protection to predator control

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Between poisoning, hunting and trapping pressure and disease, the Kenai Peninsula has not proven a very hospitable home to wolves over the years.

As a companion to Marybeth Holleman’s presentation on her new book, “Among Wolves: Gordon Haber’s Insights Into Alaska’s Most Misunderstood Animal,” at KPC on April 2, retired Kenai National Wildlife Refuge biologist Ted Bailey gave an overview of the history of wolves on the peninsula.

They’ve had their ups and downs since the late 1800s, with pressure from humans being one through line in their history. When the gold rush hit the Kenai Peninsula in 1885-86, the thousands of prospectors hoping to strike it rich brought a hefty distrust of wolves. Apparently they feared a rabies outbreak like they had seen in the Klondike, Bailey said, so they used poison to reduce the wolf population. Poison also was a method of choice for those wanting to harvest fur-bearers to sell the pelts for money during the winter. By 1915, Bailey said, the wolves of the Kenai Peninsula were gone.

By around 1965 they were returning, thought to have emigrated from the mainland after wolves started receiving protection by the fledgling state government.

“The roles were kind of switched compared to today,” Bailey said. “Back then it was the federal government that was poisoning wolves, and the state of Alaska, at statehood, they changed the outlook on wolves. They made the wolf a big game species and they protected it and developed seasons. Today it is kind of the opposite.”

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