March 15, 2010

Wolves Kill Alaska Jogger--Implications for Colorado

The recent death of a woman runner in Alaska makes me wonder how the "New West" world of outdoor sports would mesh with increasing wolf populations here in Colorado.

Perhaps some of the people who welcome the wolves' return for ecological--and even spiritual--reasons are also the same people who do things like trail running.

The woman who gets out of the car is forty years old, athletic, the mother of two children, with shoulder-length reddish brown hair. She wears a pair of blue nylon shorts, a cranberry sleeveless T-shirt, running shoes, a hat, and cotton gloves against the morning chill. She locks the car and puts the key in a little pouch attached to one of her shoes. Carrying an apple and a water bottle, she leaves the road, running down the trail into the neighboring state park.

The writer is Jordan Fisher Smith, at the time a California state park ranger, reconstructing the death of Barbara Schoener, killed by a mountain lion near Auburn, California, in 1994, in his excellent book Nature Noir.

A similar event occurred in Idaho Springs, Colorado, in 1991 when a high-school cross-country runner, practicing alone, was ambushed by another mountain lion. (More attacks listed here.)

I suspect that back in the Stone Age, people did not go running alone for recreation—or if they did, they carried spears and looked over their shoulders frequently.

Colorado has a healthy mountain lion population. Now we have wolves moving in—inevitable, given the increasing populations to the north.

I understand the ecological aspects of wolf return—the trophic cascade and all that.

But we also have a recreational culture that regards the Colorado Rockies as a big gymnasium-with-trees, put there for the express purpose of skiing, mountain biking, trail-running, etc. Imagine the interaction of a wolf pack with the Leadville 100.

No one goes to the gym expecting to be eaten.


PBurns said...

Of course wolves are MUCH safer than the gym. You know how many folks die in the gym? Tons! Falling weights, ruptured aortas, drowning in hot tubs, tripping down stairs, etc.

The only thing that kills more people than the gym is not going to the gym :)

When in the woods, the thing to worry about is not wolves, cougars, bobcats, bear, coyotes, or alligators but deer. More people die from deer on highways than all others combined. And, of course, bee stings are right behind and in front of the rest.


Chas S. Clifton said...

Patrick, as far as I am aware, your part of Virginia is free of large four-legged predators.

Luisa said...

Forget deer, Patrick -- when you're hiking in the forest here in SoCal, it's the marijuana growers you have to watch out for.

In my neck of the woods we've had people killed by mountain lions, injured by bears and attacked by coyotes [not at the same time, thankfully], but the attacks, though terrifying, are rare.

The solution, it seems to me, is to hike with a buddy, take your cell phone, carry pepper spray or a sidearm, pull the iPod buds out of your ears, and be alert. Even if you don't do those things, the odds of an attack are small.

You can remind me I said this when the critters come sniffing around the cabin this summer, and I'm cowering indoors.

LabRat said...

It's always struck me as pure and unadulterated madness to go running, particularly with a device that insures you can't hear very well, within the territory of large animals programmed to attack oblivious moving animals.

Then again, it's also always struck me as madness to deliberately insert yourself into the personal space of wild top predators, but judging by the success of dolphin swims, what the hell do I know...

Retrieverman said...

I'm more scared of sharks than wolves, and I'm more scared of domestic dogs than either.

Galen Geer said...

Oh, come on Chas. Let the critters have their snack from time to time. It keeps the human gene pool from getting stuck in a rut.

staghounds said...

Plenty of wolves might pick up the Leadville 100 pace a bit.

Tigers, that's what I'd like to see, or elephants.

Why is it that we don't get those introduced species, but kudzu and walking catfish?

Steve Bodio said...

LabRat, I am not going to avoid my predator- filled mts (lions, bears, and now wolves)-- I am just always armed. (Actually I worry more about my dogs' being eaten by a lion, not me-- it has happened to friends!)