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Cooke City

A dog watches traffic in front of the Cooke City Store along Main Street in 2008. 

Pet owners in Cooke City and Silver Gate are being advised by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials to keep their dogs leashed, especially at night, and not let them run free.

The advisory comes after two wolves mauled a dog at a Cooke City residence two weeks ago. 

In recent weeks, wolves moving in and out of Yellowstone National Park have been seen frequenting the communities of Cooke City and Silver Gate. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has set up trail cameras to monitor the situation.

Wolves have been seen on streets in Cooke City, including Main Street, side streets and the Bannock Trail. All sightings in town that FWP is aware of have been at night, according to the agency.

Wolf watchers say the pack is being pushed into the area to avoid a larger, rival Yellowstone pack and after a former alpha female was killed by a hunter. Yellowstone officials have expressed concern about the possibility that some wolves in the park may lose their natural fear of humans because some tourists attempt to get close to the animals.

At this point, FWP has no reports of wolves in the area approaching humans. However, the wolves’ behavior has raised concerns. Their traveling in and among buildings in Cooke City increases their likelihood of injuring or killing another pet, and exposure to human development and surroundings leave them vulnerable to escalating habituation, such as getting fed or a food reward, FWP said.

Feeding wildlife is illegal, and in the case of predators, it can be dangerous. To date, FWP has no evidence of feeding or baiting wolves in the area. All pet food should be kept indoors.

“As with mountain lions and bears, when we see wild animals approaching people there is concern for human safety,” said Mark Deleray, FWP regional supervisor in Bozeman, in a press release. "We don’t like to have to kill wildlife, but sometimes we don’t have any other choice. We are not there yet with these wolves — although they have been in and around town. We will continue to assess the situation, do our best to track current wolf behavior, and base our future actions on that assessment.”

Montana law allows citizens to protect themselves, livestock, and dogs from wolves. If a wolf is on private property and is posing a potential threat to human safety, livestock, or dogs, a landowner may kill a wolf without a license. On public or private land, a person may kill a wolf that is in the act of attacking, killing, or threatening a person or livestock, or attacking or killing a domestic dog. The landowner must report incidents to FWP.

For more information, contact the FWP office in Bozeman at 994-4042.

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The Billings Gazette contributed to this story.