Three generations of the Grande family shared a bonding experience Saturday morning when they followed a wolf through northwest Kalispell.
Clarence Grande said he was the first to see the animal — which was later positively identified as a wolf by biologists with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks — as he was leaving his Glenwood Drive home at about 11 a.m.
“I had dropped my wife off and just happened to be backing out of my driveway when I looked up and here come a wolf around the corner,” Clarence said. “It went right past my pickup about five feet away.”
He quickly backed out and followed the wolf until it cut between two houses heading north. As soon as he lost sight of it, he immediately called his son Brian.
“I said ‘you’re never gonna believe what I saw,’” Clarence said.
At first, Brian didn’t believe his dad, but that changed quickly. He had just turned west on Three Mile Drive from North Meridian Road, on his way home with his 12-year-old son A.J., who had just finished a basketball game at The Summit.
“I thought he was crazy,” Brian said. “Then right there from Northern Lights Boulevard it ran right across the road in front of me.”
Brian followed the wolf up the road toward Kalispell Middle School and handed his phone to his son to film it while he drove. It then got into the school’s football field where it was temporarily delayed while it tried to find a way back through the fence.
Both Brian and Clarence said they saw what appeared to be a GPS or telemetry collar around the wolf’s neck.
It was at that point that Brian called 911 and was met by Sgt. Mark Mulcahy with the Kalispell Police Department. Brian said Mulcahy followed the tracks to a nearby backyard, but did not see the wolf.
“We spend quite a bit of time in the woods,” Brian said of himself and his son. “We’ve seen wolves around even when they weren’t supposed to be here, but I’ve never seen a wolf in town. I’ve seen a black bear on the golf course though.”
The Grandes weren’t the only people to report seeing the wolf, according to the Kalispell Police Department dispatch log.
The Kalispell wolf saga started at 10:30 a.m., when a woman reported seeing the wolf running along Windward Way, near the Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Just before 11 a.m., another woman said she saw it running along the back of the Flathead County Fairgrounds.
Shortly after 11 a.m., the Grandes made their reports. The wolf was then spotted in a field between Northridge Drive and Four Mile Drive. As it exited town, deputies with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department took up the chase and managed to film it on their dashboard cameras.
It was at that point that officers contacted Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which sent out three people with equipment to try and read the collar’s signal.
“We saw the tracks and then the dash cam video from the deputy and it was a wolf,” biologist Erik Wenum said. “It was wearing a radio collar. We’re still trying to sort out who it might have been.”
Kent Laudon, a wolf specialist with Fish, Wildlife and Parks said he checked as many frequencies as he could.
“He’s from somewhere else,” Laudon said. “I had frequencies from Yellowstone, Idaho, Wyoming and other parts of Montana, but I didn’t get any beeps. It could be that this guy is missing, and wherever he’s from I don’t have the latest list.”
Another possibility is that the collar is no longer functioning.
“A lot of times, especially with juveniles, they’re radio collared at a younger age, then they leave the pack,” Wenum said. “Radio collars fail, batteries die.”
Wenum and Laudon guessed that the wolf likely came into town during the night through the creek bed.
“It’s not uncommon,” Laudon said. “We have bears and mountain lions and moose that roll in through town. They do it during the night then pop up out of that riparian zone and panic, then try to find a way out of town.”
Wenum said the dash cam footage he saw showed the wolf “running ragged, running scared.” He said it was probably also spooked by the people following it and just wanted to escape.
“Ultimately that’s what he was able to do once he got west of Farm to Market Road,” Laudon said. “He got to the tree line and continued to move west.”