Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Idaho investigates wolf encounter

SALMON, Idaho (AP) -- Officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are investigating a man's report that he had a close encounter with a pack of wolves while hiking with his dog.

Rick Turner said he was hiking with his dog, a Labrador-Pitbull mix named Lucy, on Saturday in Donnelly Gulch in central Idaho. He said they stopped to check out a dead cow elk when he spotted a gray wolf about 300 yards away, which then disappeared. Turner said he and his dog next stopped to watch three bull elk when he noticed a different wolf, black this time, about 100 yards away. The wolf, which Turner said weighed about 150 pounds, worked its way closer to Turner and his dog, until it was 50 yards away.

Turner said he picked up a piece of sagebrush and started waving it in the air and yelling, but the wolf closed to within 20 feet before stopping, and then moving off. Turner said he then saw the rest of the pack, four more black wolves and three gray wolves.

"I've never been so scared in my life," Turner, a logger and experienced hunter, told the Idaho State Journal. "I've been in the mountains all of my life, but this definitely changed my way of thinking."

Tony Latham with Fish and Game said the wolf was likely after the dog, Lucy. "That's typical behavior," Latham said. "They very much dislike other canines."

Local outfitter Luke Cranney said he found fresh wolf tracks around the dead cow elk, about a quarter-mile from where Turner said he had the encounter with the black wolf.

Latham said he found no evidence that the wolves had killed the elk. But he said he thought there might have been a wolf kill somewhere nearby judging by the activity of birds, which scavenge off wolf kills. Latham said it was the first wolf-human encounter he had investigated in the region.

"We'll probably never know what that wolf was thinking," Latham said. "But if it was chasing Rick, it would have got him. You can't outrun a wolf, you can't outrun a mountain lion, and you can't outrun a bear."

Fish and Game biologist Jason Husseman said there are six or seven wolf packs in the Salmon region, with nine to 12 wolves per pack. The one that approached Turner was likely a young wolf that didn't know any better, he said. "They're intelligent and curious and they want to know what you are," he said.

Jimmie Turner, Rick Turner's wife, said the wolf encounter won't keep them out of the backcountry, though they will be more cautious. "We spend 99 percent of our time in the woods, getting wood, camping or fishing," she said. "They want to say it happened because of the dog, but who's to say they wouldn't go after my child? You just never know."

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