PORT HEIDEN, Alaska — Villages across the Alaska Peninsula say wolf problems get worse every year, and that many caribou populations are too low to subsistence hunt.
The state helped one village kill over a dozen wolves, but warns residents they will come back.
The tundra doesn't protect Port Heiden from the icy winds blowing off Bristol Bay. In this isolated community on the Alaska Peninsula, outside help is far away.
So when a problem pops up, residents fix it themselves.
Like most Rural Alaska communities, Port Heiden is also home to wildlife. There's no hesitation to pull the trigger when animals cause problems.
“The kids shot at it over there and missed it so we took the snowmachines and chased it, tracked it down and got it over here a little ways,” said James Christensen, who hunted at least one of the problem wolves.
While the community usually handled problem animals themselves, this year it went beyond what the community could control.
“Every day I see wolves. Last night I saw six and they saw us, we got the spotlight on them had the gun on 'em and they bolted. No way I could shoot,” Bob Christensen said.
The wolves have been snatching dogs off porches and during backyard barbeques. Residents say wolves roam all over town.
John Christensen's family lost two pets this fall.
“It's scary to go outside in the morning. I use a spotlight to check all around the house,” he said.
He and others say it's never been this bad. Since August, residents have shot seven wolves, but they keep coming back.
Now, residents patrol the streets day and night, but over the past few years, wolves have seen very little pressure.
Trapping is virtually dead in the village. It's time-consuming and tough, plus gas prices are high and fur prices are too low to turn a profit.
With nothing to kill the wolves, village residents say the population keeps climbing, which means more mouths to feed.
“I see that they grabbed a young caribou out there, but they didn't kill it, so they're not having very good luck at getting dinner,” James Christensen said.
Caribou herds winter in Port Heiden.
“They have moose and other things to fall back on, but when caribou are in the area, there’s always a movement of wolves toward that area. That's likely one of the draws; there seem to be more caribou in the area currently,” said Lem Butler with Alaska Fish and Game.
State biologists say it's easier for wolves to kill dogs around town than to take down a caribou.
Last week, state biologists shot 14 wolves hanging out on the outskirts of the village, but with at least two large packs in the area, the wolves will come back.
“More wolves are expected and it will just be an ongoing effort in the community I think to keep tabs on the wolves and try to harass them as best they can. Hopefully none will develop any bad habits,” Butler said.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it's done killing wolves in the area. Port Heiden residents say they will continue to patrol the streets until they feel safe.