POLSON – Authorities from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes now say they’re skeptical that two animals seen chasing deer through a Polson yard between Christmas and New Year’s were wolves, even as another possible wolf sighting in town surfaced.
Dale Becker, tribal wildlife program manager, says his office has received multiple reports of “a couple of big dogs” on the loose, one a Malamute, one a husky, one black and one gray.
“We’ve been in touch with three different parties who have seen the animals, and are positive they’re dogs,” Becker said. “They’ve seen them running wild and chasing deer, and they fit the description.”
He and Stacy Courville, CSKT’s wolf management specialist, agree that if a wolf, or wolves, had been in town since late last month they would have received reports of dogs having been attacked or killed by now – wolves view dogs as “trespassing wolves” that must be driven away or killed – but there have been none.
Becker said it would be easy to mistake the animals, “Especially with the hybrids they have now where they’ve developed big dogs with wolf features.”
The animals were reported on Dec. 28 by a woman in the Hillcrest area on the east side of Polson.
Mary Friscia says she heard about the possible wolf sighting on Hillcrest – she and her husband live down the hill from Hillcrest, two blocks from school property and five blocks from the school itself, Linderman – on the way to work, and dismissed it.
“I thought maybe she’d seen an Irish wolfhound or something, and blew it off,” Friscia says.
But early Monday morning, when she went to put her bulldog, Butchie, outside, Friscia says there was a gray wolf in her backyard.
“I know it was,” Friscia says. “There’s not a doubt in my mind.”
It was about 6:20 a.m. Friscia was in a robe and slippers, and pulled Butchie – who was very interested in investigating – back inside.
She put on shoes and grabbed a .22 – “Just so there’d be no issues,” she says – and returned, but the animal was gone. Tracks showed it circling through the yard, then heading down an alley and traveling north up the street.
Friscia believes it might have been attracted by a colony of rabbits that have adopted the neighborhood as a home. There have been as many as 30 rabbits that hang out in the neighborhood, but that number is down to four this winter.
A neighbor who lives at the other end of the block has since told her he has seen what he believes to be a wolf as well. Friscia posted a message about what she had seen on Facebook.
“When I actually went back out (with shoes on) I saw some of the biggest K9 prints I have ever seen,” Friscia wrote. “Wow I wish I could have gotten a pic or something to prove what I saw! What a way to start a Monday!!!”
Friscia went on to warn her neighbors to keep an eye on their pets. She reported the sighting to the Polson Police Department, and was asked to call 9-1-1 immediately if she sees the animal again.
Becker and Courville measured what was left of the tracks Tuesday afternoon, and said that “even with changes due to the snowmelt, we believe the animal that left the tracks was not a wolf.”
After a tribal biologist measured and photographed the tracks in the Hillcrest yard, Polson police and CSKT released a statement saying the spacing, size and gait were consistent with wolf tracks, but stopped short of confirming it as a wolf sighting.
“The tracks were within the size range of wolf tracks,” the statement said, “but definitive verification of the source was not possible.”
Since then, Becker said, they’ve received a report from someone who was sledding near the Polson Bay Golf Course prior to the sighting who said they were approached by a woman asking if they had seen her dogs, a malamute and a husky, one black and one gray, that had gotten loose.
The woman had come down from a walking path in the Hillcrest vicinity located across U.S. Highway 93 from the golf course, Becker said.
“Everything we’ve had fits that description,” Becker said of the missing dogs.
Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.