A Ucluelet local recently spent a harrowing half-hour evading two aggressive wolves at Wickaninnish Beach.
After getting off work on Nov. 1, Brent Woodland set off for a jog with his two roughly 30 kilogram labrador retrievers, five-year-old siblings Maya and Benji, around 4:30 p.m. Wick has been a favoured jogging site for Woodland since he moved to the Coast three years ago.
Heavy rain and winds hit him as he trudged along with Maya and Benji in tow. He reached Combers Beach before turning around to head back towards the parking lots by Kwisitis Visitors Centre but, as he was passing the Wickaninnish Sand Dunes, he saw movement.
“Coming out of the sand dunes and towards us was a full grown wolf,” he told the Westerly News. “It was about 10-feet away when I turned to confront it,”
Woodland had never encountered a wolf up close before, but he knew that whenever an off-leash dog approached him and his dogs, the key was to act dominant.
“I’ve learned not to run off, but to hold your ground and make noise. That normally stops other dogs from coming up too close to our dogs,” he said. “The only thing going through my head was to keep the wolf away. Try to keep intimidating it and keep a distance between us.”
Woodland faced the animal. Maintaining eye contact, he frantically tried to keep it away.
“It was twice the size of my dogs,” he said. “When I first confronted it, I wasn’t sure that it was going to stop. It was coming right for us….I had the dogs on the leash and kept them close and I was grabbing driftwood, rocks and clumps of sand, whatever was there; I was just throwing everything I could find at the wolf.”
He said his efforts didn’t scare the wolf off, but did stop it from approaching as he tried to inch his, and his dogs’, way to safety.
“If I hit it with some rocks or something, it would kind of scamper off a bit and then we would make up some ground trying to get back to the parking lot,” he said. “It was a totally new experience to be pursued by something and to have to stand your ground. “I was running on adrenaline…I was screaming. I lost my voice the day after that.”
His plan to find solace in the beach’s Parking Lot ‘E’ fell apart when he saw a second wolf lurking in the treeline.
“It was moving through the treeline and working with the wolf that was on the beach confronting us. I didn’t feel like it was safe to go up through the trail to the parking lot so I headed for the visitors centre,” he said. “I was concerned that a fight was going to break out between my dogs and this wolf and with the other wolf there; that one of the dogs was going to get taken.”
He reached the Kwisitis Vistors Centre and climbed up the stairs. The centre was closed at the time and, from the balcony, Woodland saw two wolves sitting on the beach below. He called the police and waited 20 minutes, trying his best to move the wolves along by making as much noise as he could.
“When they [the police] showed up with their radios and sirens going, that’s when the wolves moved off and went back up into the greenbelt between the parking lot and the beach,” he said. “I didn’t see them after that.”
He said the experience has not dampened his love of Wick Beach, and he has gone surfing there since, but it has strengthened his wariness of wolves. He said it was a wake up call he hopes to share with other locals.
“We visit the beach often and we set up and we don’t see wolves so you forget that this place is wild,” he said. “There’s a lot more wilderness around us and a lot more wildlife around us that we don’t see all the time.”
He hopes his experience encourages others to keep their dogs leashed because, he said, “one or both of the dogs probably would have been really badly hurt if not killed,” if they had been off-leash.
“[The wolf] was trying to antagonize the dogs,” he said.
“It was running up close and trying to get my dogs to go after it and chase it. Wolves have that reputation at Wick. They’ll entice a dog into chasing it into the sand dunes and that’s where the dogs get packed up on by the other wolves.”
Woodland’s was one of six wolf encounters reported around Wick that week, prompting the Pacific Rim National Park to announce a wolf advisory in the area. The Park’s Human-Wildlife Conflict Specialist Todd Windle told the Westerly News that each encounter involved people with dogs and he urges all dog owners to keep their pets leashed when visiting the Park.
“We’ve had multiple encounters over the years between wolves and people with dogs but none of the encounters that had a dog on a leash in the National Park have ever resulted in an injury to the dog or the dog actually being attacked,” he said. “Whereas, incidents where dogs have been off-leash have not had as good a result.”
Windle said Woodland handled the encounter perfectly and that anyone who encounters a predator must act dominant towards it.
“It’s showing them that you’re not prey. You’re strong. You’re aggressive. They don’t want to mess with you, essentially,” he said. “We don’t ever want to run away from a large carnivore or predator because that could elicit a response…Sometimes you have a sudden encounter, which is what happened here. All of a sudden that wolf was there. [Woodland] didn’t have a chance to not approach it. So, instead, he created that space. He needed to act aggressively, in control and in a dominant way.”
Windle said the recent wolf sightings suggest habituation within the park as wolves have been spotted lurking around humans on the beach and hanging out in parking lots instead of showing their natural shyness and fear of humans.
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service does not have jurisdiction within the Park and decisions on whether to euthanize an animal are up to Windle and his Park team. He said there is no plan to kill any wolves at this point.
“We are not considering that at this time,” he said adding monitoring efforts have increased and additional hazing strategies could be launched to help reinforce a natural wariness of humans.
“It’s a fluid and sliding scale, but certainly the removal of an animal is the last option. We’ve only once ever had to remove a wolf in the Pacific Rim National Park reserve.”
He said the only time a wolf was euthanized in the Park occurred in 2004.
He added Park staff face an “ongoing challenge,” convincing people to keep their dogs leashed and that off-leash dogs can wreak havoc on the area’s delicate plant-life, migrating shorebird populations and visitor experiences and are vulnerable to being lured into the woods by wolves.
“We’re really trying to remind people that we’re here to coexist. These places are here for the wildlife, but also for us to enjoy in a respectful way,” he said.
“It’s a really interesting challenge to try to find that balance and we’re always looking at new ways we can help people understand, appreciate and experience the natural environment, including the wildlife, without disturbing it.”
Windle added anyone who encounters a predator in the Park should immediately report their sighting to 250-726-3604.
“I think there is a misconception in general. People maybe either think it’s not important or no big deal that they had an interaction with a large carnivore. Or, they feel that if they do report it that, for some reason, somebody’s going to come and destroy that animal,” he said. “Those are both false…It’s actually very helpful for people to report those things.”