ESCANABA - When Delta Conservation District Executive Director Rory Mattson headed out to begin a forestry project Oct. 8 along Trombley Road, he didn't expect to find himself treed by a small pack of wolves.
According to Mattson, he was about two miles off the main road, on a seldom-used logging road, when he exited his vehicle and began walking along the logging track.
"As I was walking along this old logging road, I came upon the track of what could presumably be considered a rather large gray wolf," said Mattson. He said while looking at the track, he thought it would be cool to see the animal that left it.
Soon, much to his chagrin, that very thought would become prophetic in more ways than one.
Continuing further along the logging road, which was shaped like a horseshoe, Mattson came upon what he believed to be a she-wolf and a younger wolf, standing over a freshly-killed doe.
"When I saw them, I stopped a good 50 to 60 yards away. What I didn't notice, however, was one very large wolf beginning to angle his way toward me from behind," said Mattson.
It wasn't until after he heard the snarling and growling from behind that he realized the situation he was in.
Utilizing basic survival skills in relation to encounters with wildlife, Mattson began yelling and screaming at the animal and making himself appear larger - a bluff to make the animal leave.
"These wolves didn't leave at all. It appeared as if they had no fear of humans at all," said Mattson.
While attempting to scare the wolves off, Mattson said he was also assessing the situation at the same time, seeking a means of egress. He noticed a large pulp pile (old tree limbs, tops, etc.) and began edging his way toward it.
After reaching the comparable safety of the pulp pile, he grabbed a large poplar branch, brandishing it toward the wolf that had followed him.
"At this time, I was really looking for a tree or other means of escape, when I saw this balsam tree. Well, I dropped the branch I was using, and scurried about 10-feet up that balsam," he said.
While Mattson was in the tree, the wolf, which may have been the alpha male of this particular pack, continued circling round for a bit before apparently departing the immediate area.
"I waited for a good 15 to 20 minutes, all the time debating if I should climb down and take my chances or spend a cold night up in a tree," said Mattson.
Climbing down out of the tree, he picked up the stick he had dropped prior, and began cautiously heading back to where he had parked his vehicle. He reached it safely and without any further encounters with the wolves.
Brian Roell, a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said he wished Mattson would have contacted DNRE offices following the encounter, allowing personnel to investigate the matter further.
Roell said it is common behavior for wolves or any other wild animal to shy away from human contact, generally running away when encountering humans.
"All wildlife needs to be treated with respect, and records indicate there have been no documented attacks on humans by wolves in the lower 48 states," said Roell. He added that all wild animals have the potential of being dangerous towards people.
One possible reason for the appearance that these particular wolves have no fear of humans, explained Roell, is they may have become acclimated or accustomed to being fed by humans and are habituated to look at them as a source of food.
"This is a rare occurrence, however, we see evidence all the time of wolves being shot," said Roell.
He said necropsies of deceased wolves has revealed lead and bird shot, along with rifle rounds being found.
"Currently the gray wolf is on the federal endangered and threatened species list, and cannot be legally killed. Until the species is removed from the federal listing, it is a crime to shoot them," said Roell.
He said there are cases where lethal control may be necessary; in those rare instances, the DNRE should be notified immediately so proper steps can be taken to document the incident.