The Wolves of Anchorage

Anchorage as seen from Earthquake Park - Maria Talasz

Sources: Wolf and Wolverine Surveys on Fort Richardson and Surrounding Areas: Final Report; Rick Sinnott, Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Even though wolves inhabit almost every corner of the state (approximately 85%), few would believe that several packs have established territories within the Municipality of Anchorage. Since wolves are elusive in nature, occur in low densities, and range over expansive territories; the likelihood of observing these wolves is extremely low. In order to get an idea of pack sizes and territories, an extensive aerial survey was conducted in 1995 by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, covering approximately 1,525 sq. miles. This was the first aerial survey of wolves in the Anchorage area, Game Management Unit (GMU) 14C.

From the survey, 19 wolves or individual wolf trails were observed in 4 packs: Knik River Pack, Eklutna Pack, Portage Pack, and Ship Creek Pack. Following the survey an additional pack of 8 wolves, Elmendorf Pack, formed or moved onto portions of Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base. Currently about 30 wolves call Anchorage home. Due to their elusiveness and large territories, it was extremely difficult to establish specific territories for the wolf packs so areas marked on the map are general however, where wolves or tracks were observed it was noted in the descriptions.

The Knik River Pack

At the time of the survey, three wolves were observed below the terminus of Lake George Glacier. Since wolves can be hunted and trapped in portions of the Anchorage area (Game Management Unit 14C north and east of Chugach State Park) mortality rates in this pack are usually high.

The Eklutna Pack

Although not observed during the survey, four sets of tracks were followed along Peters Creek, across Eklutna Lake, and along the Eklutna River. Two of the four wolves were later observed.

The Portage Pack

Two wolves were observed in the Twentymile River and Portage Creek valleys. Four additional sets of tracks were observed in the Twentymile River valley, suggesting a pack of six wolves. Like the Knik River Pack, the Portage wolves are susceptible to hunting and trapping.

The Ship Creek Pack

Six wolves were tracked from the Potter Creek valley to the Snowhawk Creek valley. The pack has also been seen on Fort Richardson and ranges from at least Potter Marsh to the Eagle River Valley. Due to the large numbers of wintering moose on Fort Richardson and frequent sightings of wolf tracks, it can be assumed that the pack spends most of its time there. These wolves will also take advantage of winter-killed moose, or those injured or killed in vehicle collisions, and gut piles from moose taken by hunters on Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base.

The Elmendorf Pack

Sometime in 1995 an additional pack formed or moved into the western portion of Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base. Eight wolves have been frequently sighted on Elmendorf. Packs tend to avoid adjacent packs and will chase and even kill wolves found in their territory. The Elmendorf and Ship Creek Packs do share some territory, but the Alaska Railroad track appears to be the approximate boundary between the packs, however this will most certainly change in the future. These packs are not hunted or trapped and it seems they have learned to tolerate humans to a greater degree than most wild wolves.

When compared with other areas in Alaska, Anchorage has an extremely low density of wolves,although it's amazing that wolves do live so close to the city. Many residents and visitors to Anchorage are fascinated by wolves and would appreciate the opportunity to see or hear a wolf. Public wolf howls have become very popular, but none more so than in Canada's Algonquin National Park. Over 82,000 people have participated in night howls there since 1963, with sometimes as many as 2,000 participants a day. Anchorage has endless possibilities for wolf howls, especially on Fort Richardson. One possible location is about halfway up Arctic Valley Road, where it overlooks McVeigh Marsh and the small arms ranges. Hopefully in the near future residents and visitors of Anchorage will have an opportunity to hear the wolves of Anchorage.