Printed on: January 08, 2013

Wolves sighted at INL

By Nate Sunderland
nsunderland@postregister.com

An Idaho National Laboratory worker spotted two wolves outside a fence at the site's Advanced Test Reactor Complex on Saturday afternoon, INL spokeswoman Carisa Schultz said.

Wolf sightings at the site are exceedingly rare, but not much of a concern for INL officials.

"Employees are used to seeing deer, rabbits and occasionally an elk," Schultz said. "But it's not unusual to see any type of wildlife out there."

Idaho Department Fish and Game officials are similarly unconcerned.

"Wolves moving through the site is an everyday occurrence," regional Fish and Game spokesman Gregg Losinski said. "The fact that someone saw them is somewhat surprising ... but sometimes people just happen to be in the same vicinity."

Wolf sightings are infrequent, Losinski said, because wolves typically avoid humans. The wild canines roam over Idaho's mountainous heart and the Island Park area. They can range hundreds of miles in search of food or a mate.

"The amount of territory a wolf can cover is huge," Losinski said.

He said the sighting doesn't signal an increase in population or an increased danger to humans, livestock or the elk herd living on site land.

Many wild animals like the site -- about 900 square miles of high-desert plain -- because it is devoid of hunters, trappers and other human predators, Losinski said.

"The elk herd has certainly learned the INL is a safe place, and if they can learn it, then I'm certain a wolf could, too," Losinski said.

Jeff Gould, Fish and Game's chief of wildlife, said the wolves are unlikely to set up a range on the desert.

"This time of year there are a lot of wolves that disperse from their home ranges and look for new ones," he said. "They are probably passing through."

Tom Keegan, Fish and Game's wildlife manager in the Salmon Region, said the lobos could have come from the southern end of the Lemhi Mountains, which are just to the north of INL.

Hollie Miyasaki, a Fish and Game wildlife biologist in Idaho Falls, said there have been multiple sightings of wolves west and northwest of the site, including sightings in Moore, Darlington and near the Nicolia Ranch.

The ATR complex is northwest of the main INL gate.

In light of the sighting, INL officials have reminded employees in an email that they should not "approach, attempt to feed, harass or otherwise interfere or interact with wild animals." Officials also reminded employees who work, walk or jog outside the fence to be aware that wolves run in packs, so if employees see a wolf, there might be others in the vicinity.

"Idaho is a very wild place, and we humans sometimes forget that, and we are surprised when we see wildlife," Losinski said.

Nate Sunderland can be reached at 542-6763. Comment on this story on Post Talk at www.postregister.com/posttalk/.