When is a wolf not precisely a wolf?
Sometimes on Sunday mornings of long holiday weekends when your Google News Alerts for “Stevens County Wolf” sends you a link to an overnight story and you open it without having your coffee first.
In this case it was a piece in the Spokane Spokesman-Review detailing a hunter’s encounter over the carcass of his deer last month.
Reading it twice and glancing at the image on my smartphone I decided to share it on Facebook as another example in the continuing saga of wolf recolonization in Washington and for the hunter’s cool reaction under duress.
Andrew Norby had killed a whitetail buck near Jump Off Joe Lake the afternoon of Oct. 20 and as he wrapped up butchering the carcass of the deer he felt he was being watched.
“I looked up and about 20 to 25 yards to my left, there was what I assumed was a wolf,” Norby told the newspaper’s outdoor reporter Eli Francovich. “He just kind of snuck up on me while I was working with all the meat.”
Norby explained how he parried the animal’s aggressive moves towards the deer with his own reactions, but decided against shooting it or even blasting off a warning shot as he believed it would have resulted in “a mess to try and explain to someone why I shot a wolf. I had no wish to be mauled or anything, but also no wish to go through that process.”
I had a buttload of stuff to do on Sunday — thorough house cleaning, catch snippets of the Hawks game, shop for the week, kid birthday party — but as I checked in from time to time I saw that, as with all things wolf, the reaction on Facebook to my story share was of course heated.
Partly that was due to the Spokesman-Review‘s initial headline that carried over in the link, “Wolf steals deer from Stevens County hunter.”
That did not accurately reflect the events in the field, and in my share I noted things actually occurred over the carcass of the buck, meaning most of the meat had already been removed.
I could have done a better job relating that as even though that info was in the narrative of the newspaper’s story, lord knows I’ve been known to react to just a headline too.
But questions also began to arise from readers on our Facebook page and elsewhere whether said wolf was actually a wolf.
Later on Sunday the SSR changed the headline to “Canine steals deer from Stevens County,” which I added as an update to the online thread Monday morning when I got to work.
Looking more closely at the accompanying image of the animal on my large desktop monitor I also facepalmed myself for not having blown it up on my phone to better scrutinize it in the first place.
The sleek coat and the shape of its body from head to paws suggested to me something more along the lines of a sled dog.
Of course I’m not an expert, but, er, doggedly following the story himself, reporter Francovich heard back from someone who is for a subsequent update yesterday afternoon.
Longtime wolf researcher Paul Paquet, a former Canadian Wildlife Services biologist now associated with Project Coyote, said it looked to him like “a husky mix (malamute, Siberian?) and possible hybrid (wolf X dog).”
But Paquet added that like Norby, “given the circumstances, I would likely have thought this was a wolf.”
In following the wolf issue in Washington over the past decade, I’ve found that wolf reports beget wolf reports.
That is, the mere mention of wolves will have people relating all sorts of sightings, howls, tracks and suspicious events.
Some are in fact legit; others, like the one posted this past Saturday on WDFW’s observation page of two in somebody’s yard not far from Redmond Town Center, less so.
I’m not blaming Eli or the SSR’s headline writer one bit — what do they say about people and glass houses?
Rather, with how hot wolf news burns, this will serve as a reminder to yours truly that even as a greater and greater percentages of events are legit, a cool eye is still needed for each and every one to accurately report on wolves in Washington and all that comes with it.