Snowmobilers have close wolf encounter near Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota

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(Photos courtesy of Wendy Pedginski)

A group of snowmobilers came within feet of a gray wolf hanging around a groomed trail just south of Voyageurs National Park last weekend. The animal appeared unalarmed and unafraid, but otherwise healthy.

Wendy Pedginski and her family have a home on the Ash River and were snowmobiling when they saw what they believe was a female wolf at about 11 a.m. on Sunday.

“She was digging in the snow next to the trail and eating something, but she was totally nonchalant around us,” Pedginski said. “She didn’t look injured or anything, and she did not act threatened. We did not feel threatened.”

The wolf eventually walked into the adjacent forest and urinated in a squatting position, which is why Pedginski believes it was a female. The snowmobilers returned to the exact location a couple of days later and saw no sign of the wolf.

“Maybe she was separated from the pack or something,” Pedginski said.

Img 2744In a Facebook post on Wednesday morning, the Voyageurs Wolf Project called the wolf’s behavior “extremely abnormal” and urged the public to use caution if they encounter the canine. Tom Gable, leader of the VWP, said the section of trail where the wolf was seen is about three miles west of the town of Ash River and south of VNP.

Via Facebook, VWP said: “We recently learned of a wolf just south of Voyageurs National Park in the Ash River area that walked within 5 feet of a group of snowmobiles on a groomed snowmobile trail a few days ago. The wolf seemed unalarmed, did not appear to exhibit fear of people or the snowmobiles, and just sauntered/lingered in the area. This is **EXTREMELY ABNORMAL** behavior and folks should exercise caution if they encounter this wolf,” the group wrote in its post.

A research effort with the University of Minnesota, the Voyageurs Wolf Project has been studying wolf and prey relationships around the greater Voyageurs ecosystem along Minnesota’s Canadian border since 2015. Via its social media feeds, the group frequently posts images and high-quality videos of the wild animals its trail cameras photograph.Unknown

Penny Backman, acting DNR wildlife supervisor out of Tower, told Outdoor News that she and Ray-area DNR Conservation Officer John Slatinski were aware of the animal and monitoring reports. There had been other sightings of wolves in the area, which she said is not uncommon this time of year when wolves are dealing with deep snow.

“They’re not super predators. They struggle with the conditions like everything else, and we sometimes see hungry animals desperate to move on easier, more convenient travel corridors like roads and trails,” Backman said. “Sometimes they find roadkill, even if it’s small rodents, on these trails.”

Although there have been no reports of this wolf or others acting aggressively, she urged people out-of-doors to avoid approaching wolves, deer, moose, or any animals.

“Try to give them a wide berth and go around them in such situations,” she said. “They’re probably exhausted and hungry, so they don’t have a lot of energy to run away.”

Gable, of the VWP, said researchers see a lot of nighttime wolf activity around roads and trails in the area in winter, but the animals still do everything possible to avoid people. In his research, he’s seen a lot of wild wolves, usually as they’re running away, but said he’d never seen an outwardly healthy animal like the one in the images that close to people. He said it’s possible the wolf has some sort of undetectable problem such as a disease, or that it’s somehow been habituated to people.

“This is definitely an anomaly. Sometimes wild wolves will be curious and stare for a moment, but they never let you approach,” he said.

Pedginski said the animal looked fine to her with no sign of mange or any other ailment. She wondered if the animal simply was young and had grown up in a wild place without much exposure to people or snowmobiles.

“It was almost like she didn’t know enough to be afraid,” she said. “It was a cool encounter.”

Whatever the situation, the VWP via Facebook strongly encouraged citizens not to approach wolves exhibiting such behavior, “even if it seems docile and friendly, and certainly do not feed the animal.”

“The wolf did not shows signs of aggression from what we have heard, but it is a wild wolf, and wolves that have become this comfortable around people can be unpredictable,” the post said.

“If possible, please report any additional sightings to the area wildlife office of the Department of Natural Resources at (218) 757-3274, or let us know and we will pass it along.”

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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