Wolf : critical to ecological integrity

Updated February 9, 2016

Winter of 2015/16

February 8th The wolves heard at the Maligne hostel yesterday were part of a pack of six or seven that had come out of the Beaver Lake trail onto Medicine Lake. They crossed the Maligne Road where the Beaver Lake trail passes through the culvert and travelled across the flats and north on the lake beside the Maligne River. At the north end they passed below the public parking lot and travelled on to the boat launch parking area. Their tracks were sighted again down on the riverbed and also up on the hill above. They may have travelled on the road but the snowplough had come through and removed all evidence.

February 7th  Lots of howling by at least two wolves up at the Maligne hostel in the middle of the night answered by more howls from wolves down near the Athabasca River.

January. The packs and individuals seem to have been all over the place this winter and with mating season coming up the situation probably won’t get any clearer. The seven (Jacques Lake) pack moved out of the park for a while but have now moved back in again and tracks of a large pack which may have been that same group were seen in old snow about 1 km north of the Snaring Overflow campground last week.

January 11th One brown wolf together with a grey one (both uncollared) were seen by a visitor near the Maligne Canyon tea house and there were tracks of two or three other wolves in the vicinity.

Two other wolves, an older female and a black male (both collared) and possibly part of a pack, have been located in both the Sunwapta area and on the Maligne Road. Did they skirt the base of Signal Mountain or did they go over the Maligne Range?

Also two black wolves were seen in the vicinity of Indian Ridge to the west of Whistlers Peak.

Parks Canada says it will have more information in an upcoming report on the travels of some of these wolves when the data on the collars is downloaded in the near future. In the meantime one can only speculate what these wonderfully elusive and mysterious animals are up to.

December 13th The seven-pack with the two wolves that were collared at the Summit Lakes on December 10th travelled on to Jacques Lake and is now in the Rocky River area. It has now been identified as having three black, three grey and an old grey-black (silver-coloured) one.

December 11th Since the last snowfall –December 9th – possibly three wolves have visited the Whistlers campground (north end)

December 9th Tracks of five or six wolves were seen coming from the east onto the Maligne Road about 2 kms south of the Maligne Hostel. They continued south past Medicine Lake and then turned onto the Beaver Lake/Jacques Lake trail. On December 10th they were found by Parks Canada in the Summit Lakes area and two of them were then radio-collared. Parks also reported that pack has seven wolves, not six.

December 5th A grey wolf with a dark saddle seen near the Cold Sulphur Spring east of Twelve Mile Bridge early this morning. Seen again an hour later on the far side of Jasper Lake going east fast.

The six wolves whose tracks were seen on the Maligne Road on November 24th were apparently identified as being two black and four grey. They were last seen heading east on the Athabasca River shore ice

During the past week a wolf was radio collared near Horseshoe Lake (south on the Icefields Parkway) but was later located on the far side of the Maligne Road across from the Watchtower Trailhead

November 28th Tracks of two wolves travelling together in various parts of the Snaring area before and since the last snowfall on the 24th. One grey wolf with a dark coloured tail reportedly seen recently.

November 24th. A light snowfall on the night of the 23/24th showed wolf activity on the Maligne Road. Six wolves had come north from the Maligne Lake direction investigating the bighorn sheep herd and the tracks of two moose at the Medicine Lake delta before travelling along the road above Medicine Lake. They continued north with periodic sorties into the woods, probably hoping to surprise some deer. Midday found them near the Maligne hostel, howling just out of sight up on the hill. At least some of them continued down the road before turning east on the Sixth Bridge road.

So far this winter two wolves of the Sunwapta Pack have been located along Highway 93. One of them is collared. Also two wolves possibly of the Robson Pack (uncollared) have been seen west of town.

November 6th. The tracks of a pack of five wolves were seen on the snow-covered Maligne Road south of Medicine Lake. The next day they were picked up again on the trail near Beaver Lake on the way to the Summit Lakes.

November 18th. The Maligne Road is closed due to heavy snowfall yesterday but it looks as though 3 wolves had come down the road overnight and then followed the tracks of some mule deer down to the Lake Edith area. The mule deer are rutting now.

Status of the wolf packs as last reported in January 2015.

  • Devona Pack eastern part of the park. Eleven wolves and possibly twelve.
  • Rocky River Pack in the Rocky River/Talbot Lake area. Is this the same as the Devona Pack?
  • Pyramid Pack  Pyramid Lake area. Maybe five wolves
  • Brazeau Pack near the border of Jasper and Banff parks – only three wolves. May have moved out of the park
  • Sunwapta Pack between Sunwapta Falls and Pyramid Bench. Three wolves, two of them collared?
  • Signal Mountain Pack once a large pack maybe only two members left. Signal/Medicine area?
  • Snaring Pack in the Snaring River area. Reports of 3-5 wolves.
  • Robson Pack Pack Maybe four in west boundary/Robson Park area

Here one winter, gone the next?

The wolf packs of south Jasper National Park are as dynamic as wolf packs anywhere: shifting territories, new pups being born, other members leaving and some dying. No doubt in the coming years some more packs will disappear altogether, others will move in and the picture will change again and again.

Once wolves move out of the park into either Alberta or British Columbia they run the danger of being killed by trappers. The park badly needs buffer zones on either side to give some added protection to its far-ranging carnivores.

Architect of prey species

A splintered leg bone; a carpet of hair on the trampled grass; a rib cage being scavenged by a raven are signs of a successful wolf hunt: an indication that small part of the park is on the right track towards maintaining a healthy ecosystem for predators and prey.

The wolf is the predator that, over the millennia, has fashioned ungulates into the species we so admire today. It created the long straight legs that speed the elk and deer, molded the strength and power of the moose, created the agility of the bighorn sheep and mountain goats and made woodland caribou specialists in deep snow survival. It is the wolf that eliminates vulnerable individuals and keeps the prey species within the carrying capacity of its habitat. Wilderness is not complete without it.

That is why the US Fish and Wildlife Service introduced thirty-three Canadian wolves to the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem in 1996 to deal with the over-population of elk.

Besides killing many of the 20,000 elk, the wolves also killed half the coyote population. This increased the ground squirrel numbers resulting in more foxes, weasels and birds of prey. The surviving coyotes and an almost exploding population of bald-eagles thrived on carcass remains left by the wolves.

Inroads into the elk population led to a recovery of aspen and cottonwood trees as the elk became more nervous and mobile. This in turn led to an increase in the beaver population resulting in more beaver ponds providing ideal habitat for waterfowl and other nesting birds. Known as a “trophic cascade”, one organism creates cascading effects in a complex ecosystem.

Here in Jasper National Park present and future packs will continue with their age-old interactions with the ungulates, keeping a lid on the elk population and leaving enough remains to benefit the many birds, scavengers, small animal species and insects that are part of the rich fabric of this unique place.

So, in your wanderings in the park when you next see evidence of a wolf kill be thankful that this ‘park manager’ has its priorities straight and is keeping the ecosystem healthy.