Published March 08, 2009, 12:00 AM

How they trap wolves

It was chilly the morning of Nov. 2 last fall. Angela Aarhus-Ward was in the Brimson area, checking her trap line.

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

It was chilly the morning of Nov. 2 last fall. Angela Aarhus-Ward was in the Brimson area, checking her trap line.

Aarhus-Ward, 32, traps wolves as part of a research study being conducted by the Grand Portage band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the 1854 Treaty Authority.

She doesn’t want to kill the wolves she traps. They’re only good to her if they’re alive, wearing GPS transmitter collars around their necks.

At one site, she noticed her trap was not where she had set it. She turned off her pickup and listened.

“Immediately, I heard movement in the forest about 50 yards away,” said the wildlife research biologist for the 1854 Treaty Authority. “I saw trees moving and something jumping a little bit.”

Now, the exciting part of her job began.

“It’s quite an adrenaline rush to have a wolf in a trap and immobilize it,” she said.

She was working with an assistant who happened to be her husband, Matt Ward, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries specialist on a day off.

They approached the very live wolf cautiously. Its leg was clamped in a rubber-padded foot-hold trap, and the trap was on a chain and drag, wrapped around a tree.

Aarhus-Ward’s job was to jab the wolf in a rear haunch with a 3-foot-long “jab stick,” containing a syringe with a tranquilizer and an anesthetic. While Matt distracted the wolf, she moved in from behind, quickly administering the drugs.

After about 10 minutes, with the wolf tranquilized, she and Matt moved it to an open area and began work. The wolf was black, about 2 to 3 years old, Aarhus-Ward estimated. She weighed it — about 85 pounds. She measured its length. She inspected the leg that had been in the trap. Like other wolves she has trapped, this one was not injured by the trap’s padded jaws, she said.

She fitted the wolf with a 2-pound GPS collar that would transmit the wolf’s locations twice a day for up to two years. She collected several hairs from the base of its tail for genetic analysis.

In about 45 minutes, the wolf began to wake up. Aarhus-Ward gathered her gear and moved away. She and Matt watched, as she had watched many wolves before.

“They’re groggy,” she said. “But they’re in an open area with no sharp branches. They usually get up and stumble around. Eventually, they’re able to move off. As soon as I see them move off, I’m ready to go.”

And she has another wolf transmitting its travels to her computer.