By Mike Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A Dorset man is concerned by the lack of accountability at both the provincial and municipal levels as a pack of wolves run roughshod over his tiny, rural hamlet.
Mike Baum has lived in the area for practically his whole life. Having been “raised in the woods”, with extensive experience studying wild animals, Baum admitted the current situation involving three wolves is “unusual, disturbing and unsettling.”
Since arriving on the scene late last year, the wolves have been spotted in populated areas at all time of the day, and, at this point, appear to have scared away deer that regularly congregated in the area, and killed off all of the community’s feral cats.
“Typically, wolves are extremely afraid of humans. That’s inherent in their normal behaviour,” Baum told the Echo. “Through all of my years hunting, if we were even able to catch a glimpse of a wolf, it was like a huge reward, or experience of the year, because usually they won’t go anywhere where they can sense, or smell humans.”
But that isn’t the case with this particular pack, who Baum believes have made their home in the bush behind Portico Timber Frames, just off Highway 35.
At night time especially, he has witnessed them wandering along Dorset’s Main St. with increased regularity. Mike’s daughter, Sabrina, who also lives in Dorset, has actually caught the wolves on a motion camera she recently installed at her property. That decision was brought on by a close encounter of her own earlier this winter, when she caught one of the wolves lurking behind her vehicle as she walked down her front steps.
While Sabrina was fortunate in the sense that she, nor her pet Husky were attacked, fellow Dorset resident Rebecca Sims says her family wasn’t so fortunate.
Back on Dec. 11, after letting one of her family’s dogs outside on the front porch, it was attacked, by either a coyote or a wolf, Rebecca says. The animal would eventually succumb to its injuries.
This wasn’t the first unpleasant encounter the Sims family have had with wild animals since moving to the area in 2017 – a couple of years ago they found a dead deer beside their home, that she believed had been killed for sport, displaying only a single wound and no evidence it had been eaten.
The incident surrounding the Sims’ dog has caused concerns throughout the community, Baum says. For Rebecca and her family, it’s changed the way they live their life.
“The proximity [of the attack] causes great concern. We have taken measures to ensure we are outside with the kids whenever possible, and we have installed more exterior lights [on our property], as well as [creating] a well-lit pathway between our home and the neighbours,” Sims said. “Our entire family has been affected by the loss of our pet. My older son, who is eight years old, saw our injured dog outside. Given how dark it was, we aren’t sure how much he was able to see that morning, but he was very aware of how much pain our dog was in. It is something that has left a huge mark on all of us.”
While Sims didn’t report the incident, Baum has been in regular contact with officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry [MNRF]. He says the responses he’s received to date are “quite discouraging.”
Baum says he was given the contact number of a local trapper, although the Ministry cautioned against the practice, expressing concern that regular pets, such as cats and dogs, could get caught in the crosshairs. He was also asked to canvass homes in the area, to see if anyone was leaving garbage outside for a prolonged period, or, worse, feeding any of the wild animals that live in the area.
“That was laughable. As a concerned citizen, reporting a real issue… To then be told myself to go out into my community and canvass,” Baum laughed, shaking his head. “I honestly don’t think they have a strategy for this kind of situation, because it is so rare.”
In the end, Baum says he was told the control of wild animals was more of a municipal issue. When we asked Greg Moore, a bylaw officer with Algonquin Highlands, if this was, in fact, the case, he responded by saying “the municipality does not have jurisdiction over the control of wild animals.”
Following up with the MNRF, provincial officials appeared to pass the buck back into the township’s court.
“Municipalities are responsible for decisions regarding appropriate action when human-wildlife encounters create ongoing conflict situations on municipal property, and can also take action on private property with the permission of the landowner,” says Jolanta Kowalski, MNRF media relations officer.
Kowalski confirmed the ministry’s Parry Sound district office received a call regarding wolves in the Dorset area back in December, however without photographic or physical evidence, she said it cannot confirm whether the animals in question are wolves or coyotes, as their appearance and behaviour can be very similar. She confirmed the office had followed up by providing information on how to prevent and manage conflicts with wildlife on private property.
Baum says there’s no questioning that these animals are wolves, saying they are fully grown and estimating them to be around 100 pounds. He wants to see action taken to prevent any further issues from occurring in the Dorset area.
“My fear is, if these wolves are so comfortable that they’re walking down our main street, and attacking family pets on their property, then what’s next? God forbid they attack a child,” Baum said. “Even I find myself looking over my shoulder now when I’m out in the community. It’s an eerie, uncomfortable, unsettling feeling. I grew up knowing that wolves are afraid of humans, and avoid human contact at all costs. That’s part of their preservation, part of their DNA. What we’re seeing with these wolves is the total opposite of that.”