The wolves in and around Port Hope Simpson this year are more brazen than ever, according to one local dog sledder, who says wolves have been stealing seal meat from his dogs.
William Russell, who has lived in Port Hope Simpson for over 16 years, said it's not uncommon for wolves to be in the area, but by this time of the season they've usually moved farther inland.
"They usually leave when the river freezes up, they go on in the country farther away — but this year they never," Russell said. "They just hung around, I guess."
Russell says the only reason he can think of for why they're hanging around is that they might be hungry.
While he usually leaves seal meat out in the open air to freeze before feeding it to his dogsled team, Russell said, the wolves are coming into the area and dragging the seal carcasses off into the woods.
This is the first time that he's ever seen wolves coming near his dogs to take food.
"They're getting pretty brazen there, just roaming through the dogs and taking their food," Russell said. "I'm half afraid they're going to take one of the dogs."
I'd rather keep food there for the wolves then take one of my dogs for food. - William Russell
Russell can tell that the wolves are nearby; one evening he left some seal meat out, only to come back a few hours later to find the meat gone and tracks scattered among the dogs.
"We tracked it up across the trail there, the snowmobile trail. So it's more than one," Russell said. "There's a couple up there for sure."
It's the most tracks Russell has ever seen in the area, though he's yet to spot one of the animals.
"I'll be staring into the woods there when I'm over feeding the dogs, they're only alongside there somewhere," he said. "But a wolf is hard to see all the same. It's not very often you see them."
Russell's main concern, though, is that eventually, if the wolves aren't happy with the food they're able to steal, that they'll come after his dogs. It wouldn't be the first time: last summer his wife was awoken to the sound of one of their dogs fending off a wolf trying to get to her pups just outside their front door.
Though they didn't get a meal that time, Russell said he'd rather placate the wolves than risk his dogs.
"I'd rather keep food there for the wolves than [have them] take one of my dogs for food."
Residents share trailcam footage, fresh tracks on Facebook
Russell installed a trailcam near his dogs to try to see what the wolves were up to, but since installing the camera they haven't been back. He said someone from the community tracked them last week to the local garbage dump.
If the wolves are looking for food, it would explain their scavenging, Russel said, adding there doesn't seem to be many rabbits around this year.
Regardless, the increase in wolves has people in Port Hope Simpson nervous.
With COVID-19 restrictions and winter weather bringing more people outdoors, the concern for many residents is what to do if they encounter the animals.
"A lot of people are concerned," said Russell. "Kids be out sliding, and afraid the wolves come around their door."
The Department of Fisheries, Forest, and Agriculture advised residents of Port Hope Simpson to be extra-vigilant and said conservation officers, along with local trappers, will be doing patrols in the area.
Residents with pets should keep them indoors when possible.
But for dog sledders like Russell, that may not be an option.
It's difficult to catch a wolf, Russell said, but he's heard from trappers that they're clever animals, and he hopes they'll head back into the wild.