Cry Wolf: Author questions whether lessons from fatal 2005 wolf attack in north have been forgotten

Harold Johnson warns that we're ignoring what's going on with the wolf population in Saskatchewan at our own bloody peril.

Kenton Carnegie killed by wolves at Points North Landing in 2005

Wolves on the runway at Points North Landing, photographed 24 hours before Kenton Carnegie fatally attacked. (Saskatchewan Coroner's Service)

Harold Johnson still remembers the early morning in 1986 when he realized he wasn't at the top of the food chain.

It involved a northern Saskatchewan mine site and a very large timber wolf. Now, 34 years later, he's written a book warning that we ignore this apex predator at our peril.

Johnson says that on that day decades ago he was walking on a bush road to the job site when suddenly the hair on the back of his neck stood up. Some primitive part of his brain began flashing red alerts.

He turned to find a timber wolf about eight to 10 feet away, crouched down and ready to pounce.

Harold Johnson's new book Cry Wolf dives deep into the 2005 death of Kenton Carnegie, who was killed by wolves. (CBC)

"If I close my eyes I can see that wolf. I was in the best shape of my life. I weighed 172 pounds. Better shape than when I finished basic training a decade earlier. And that wolf was the same weight as me, maybe more. He had more strength than I had. He was faster, he was quicker," he said.

"He was an athlete's dream, aesthetically beautiful, and scared the pants off me. "

Johnson said he survived the encounter by crawling into a manhole on the road.

The Carnegie inquest

Fast forward two decades and Johnson once again had a wolf encounter. This time it happened in the ballroom of a Prince Albert hotel in 2007.

Johnson represented the family of Ontario engineering student Kenton Carnegie at a coroner's inquest. The 22-year-old had been killed at Points North Landing in 2005, a northern mining supply camp where he worked on a break from his classroom studies.

Carnegie had gone out for a walk around a nearby lake and didn't return. Searchers later found his body, partially eaten and surrounded by animal tracks.

Kenton Carnegie was working at a mining supply camp in northern Saskatchewan when he was killed by wolves. (Carnegie family)

The inquest eventually determined that Carnegie had been killed by wolves. It was the first recorded death by wolf attack in North America in more than a century.

In the Points North case, the wolves had been drawn to the camp's unfenced dump and become habituated to humans.

Cry Wolf

Today, 15 years after the inquest, wolves are again on Johnson's mind. He's just published Cry Wolf, a book that takes a deep dive into the circumstances around Carnegie's death.

The goal, he says, is to remind people of the animal that we're dealing with. The Carnegie inquest provided a graphic reminder that, given the right environment, wolves will kill people.

The prospect of more wolf/human encounters is growing as people encroach on their territory. Johnson says the province needs to start tracking wolf populations and movements.

"Where are they? What are they doing? How are they surviving? What are we doing with the massive clear cuts in northern Saskatchewan destroying their habitat?"

The Ministry of Environment confirms that it does not track wolf populations or movement.

"Wolf populations are generally inferred based on reported problems with livestock predation and from anecdotal information mainly from hunters, trappers and outfitters," an official said in an e-mail.

"We have a provincial estimate of 3,500 wolves based on habitat and prey-based models, but these are likely on the low end."

About the Author

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.


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