Alaska wildlife officers shoot wolves believed to be behind attack

Chignik, AK - (NBC) - Alaska Fish and Game biologists have tracked down and killed two of the wolves they believe killed a woman last week.

A break in the weather let Fish and Game biologists fly out Monday to track the wolves for the first time.

Officials say it's highly likely that the two wolves they shot and killed Monday evening are part of the wolf pack that attacked and killed a special education teacher a week ago.

Candice Berner, 32, was killed just outside of Chignik Lake last Monday, but bad weather had delayed the hunt for the wolves.

Fish and Game biologists used at least one plane and a helicopter searching for the animals.

The plan was to shoot the wolves from the plane, then use the helicopter to recover the bodies.

Even though the weather cleared up Monday, there was no evidence early on of where the wolves were.

After hours of searching, they finally found something.

"We searched the Chignik drainage and located two wolves later in the day that matched the general description that I've been hearing from several accounts. So we were able to successfully take those wolves from the air and we'll be sending the full bodies back to our lab to get worked up," said Lem Butler, a biologist with Fish and Game.

"I think it's highly likely (that they are responsible for the attack) ... they are relatively close to the area in the same drainage and they were in an area that had moose and less weather than we did, so it's likely given the severe weather we've had here over the last five days it would be an easy move for a wolf and a likely place for them to be," Butler said.

It was a painful waiting game for Chignik Lake residents.

"When you're out there alone, you're vulnerable," said Chignik Lake resident Virginia Aleck.

"I sure hope they try and get rid of them. It's kind of scary. I mean, I worry about the kids that are going to school here," said another resident, Sam Stepenoff.

Snowmachiners discovered Berner's body last Monday.

The attack happened just outside of town.

"If this particular group of animals has over time become more comfortable around people and less wary, as we'd expect most wolves to act around people, there is a chance that again, given the same opportunity, they could take advantage of it," Butler said.

Biologists believe Berner is the first person killed by wolves in Alaska's history, but those who grew up in the village remember wolf legends warning children to never look in the eye of a wolf and never speak of the "evil" that possessed them.

"I've heard elders say that wolves are like people. They're very intelligent, and they will work at getting their food," said Orville Lind with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who grew up in Chignik Lake.

Berner's death devastated the small community, but residents say they're not shocked that it happened.

"I've seen these wolves practically all winter. I live up on the hill here," Stepenoff said.

"I know wolves are very aggressive… and the food source has been very low here," Aleck said.

Still, biologists can't pinpoint what triggered the attack.

They say it's probably a combination of opportunity, hunger and instinct.

"I think wolves are really capable of adapting to whatever their environment is. A lot of people do consider wolves to be something that is more associated with wilderness areas; but that's not necessarily true. Wolves will take advantage of any opportunity they are presented with," Butler said.

He says trapping and relocating the animals is not an option.

"There's really no area or community that would like to receive these wolves. Most people feel like there are already enough wolves in their back yard. There would be a lot of resistance to relocating these wolves to other areas near other communities, particularly given this pack may have some concerns associated with human safety," he said.

Human safety is the number one concern in Chignik Lake.

"It's really sad … I'm not too sure how I like it here anymore," Aleck said.

Chignik Lake residents say hunters can kill the pack, but the memory of the tragedy will be with the village forever.

Fish and Game says they will continue the wolf hunt, because they believe there are more wolves that were a part of the attack.

Biologists say they will take the carcasses to Fairbanks for testing.

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