Wolf : critical to ecological integrity

Updated May 13, 2018

May 13, 2018

Three or four wolves were howling up near the Maligne hostel late last night.

March 16, 2018

wolf-page

Photo by Lisa Chambers

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain.”  From Thinking Like a Mountain by Aldo Leopold

The grand old Sunwapta female has come to the end of her travels in the valleys. She will be greatly missed by us – she now belongs to the mountain. RIP

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Image by Paul and Coral Hamilton

Image by Paul and Coral Hamilton

Fall and winter 2017-2018

Warning

The use of a drone without a special permit from Parks Canada is prohibited in the national parks and could be subject to a fine of up to $3000.

March 16, 2018

Two days ago the collar of one of the Sunwapta pack was signalling from the area of the Maligne Hostel. Since then it has moved down Highway 93a to the Whirlpool area – and then … ? Stay tuned.

March 8, 2018

On March 6th three wolves were seen near Talbot Lake. One of them was collared; the other two (pictured above) were not.

March 6, 2018

About March 2nd wolves were heard howling just south of Athabasca Falls and shortly afterwards the remains of a deer were discovered.

February 19, 2018

A few days ago 2 black wolves were seen in the Summit Lake area.

February 17, 2018

About three days after the Sunwapta pack was seen at Talbot Lake feeding on an elk they were located about 6okm south near  Athabasca Falls. It is almost impossible to tell where they will go next as they seem to have most of the southern part of the park to themselves. They can go where they want with no other packs’ territorial boundaries to stop them. No word of the old Sunwapta female either but that lone wolf seen and heard on the 14th may still be around the Highway 16 area.

February 14, 2018

The Sunwapta pack was seen in the Talbot Lake area last week where they stayed for two or three days. There were five wolves altogether – mating time. On Saturday there was just one lone wolf left – howling out on the lake ice. Yesterday possibly that same wolf was seen and heard howling further west. Today they could be anywhere.

February 6, 2018

Three wolves were seen on the Maligne River this afternoon close to where wolves were heard howling on February 1st. However, they were described as being pale underneath and grey on top which doesn’t fit with the ones on the 1st that had a tan and a black one amongst them.

It seems slightly puzzling that the pack whose tracks were seen heading onto the Jacques Lake trail on the 2nd would turn around and come back the same way. Maybe this is another Pack?? Maybe the colours looked different in a different light?? Maybe … maybe??? This is why wolves are so fascinating!

February 2, 2018

Their tracks were seen the next day heading in towards Jacques Lake.

February 1, 2018

Last night the wolves were howling above the Maligne hostel. This afternoon at least some of the pack  were down on the Maligne river a few kilometres south of the hostel and howling again. Two of them were sighted, one black and one tan. They disappeared but their tracks were seen about an hour later travelling in single file up the middle of the snow-covered river about three kms further south and heading towards Medicine Lake. The track of one wolf was seen travelling up the road above the river.

January 22, 2018

Two separate sightings yesterday of the old collared Sunwapta female down on the river ice below the Jasper Park Lodge road.

She was seen on the ice being pestered by two coyotes and looking rather worried. However, she obviously managed to evade them as she was photographed two days later by a visitor from Prince George –once again heading up the road towards Maligne Lake.

The tracks of three wolves were spotted last weekend crossing the Maligne river ice about halfway to Medicine Lake. Probably some of the Sunwapta pack.

January 18, 2018

Hope to report regularly from now on.

At the end of December the Sunwapta pack was seen feeding on the carcass of a bull elk on the far side of Talbot Lake.  This pack of four (three of them collared) seems to be using the Pyramid Bench, Lake Edith area, Snaring and Talbot Lake. From the extensive size of their territory it could be that they are the only pack now in the Jasper area. There are wolves in the north part of the park but no reports of them to the west of the town.

December 8, 2017

The old Sunwapta female has been seen, still on her own, travelling up the Maligne road between Medicine and Maligne Lakes. Her once dark grey coat is now very pale but apparently she is looking healthy and well fed. It’s a good year for snowshoe hares and one of those would make a good meal for a wolf.

Tracks of one wolf on the ice/snow of Pyramid Lake and tracks of two wolves at the viewpoint above the Maligne Canyon. Very difficult tracking as there is still very little snow.

December 1, 2017

The Sunwapta pack still seems to be the only one in the Athabasca Valley this winter. The male with the satellite collar has been tracked at Yellowhead Lake in the west and Jasper Lake in the east. Presumably the rest of the pack (four of them) are with him. Tracks were seen at Maligne Lake  and there were some frozen tracks this week in the Whistlers campground heading towards the steep side of Whistlers mountain.

The old female of the old Sunwapta pack that has been travelling alone this year anywhere from the Maligne Valley to the South Boundary was seen a short time ago at Medicine Lake.

So far it is not a good year for tracking as we have had very little snow and what we had has melted and is now very icy.

October 25, 2017

Jasper’s Sunwapta wolves are a very active pack. Two males and one female (all collared) plus possibly two pups, they seem to have a territory that runs from the Snaring area north of the Athabasca all the way down to Sunwapta Falls on the Icefields Parkway. They have been tracked at Pyramid Lake, the airstrip, the Palisades, the golf course, Old Fort Point and Lake Edith and they all seem to be sticking together.

There may be a small pack – possibly not more than two wolves – in the Chaba area and in late September there were reports of wolf activity in the Rock Lake and Brule areas near Jasper’s eastern border.

There is already quite heavy snow in the subalpine and the alpine areas so people have been skiing up to the Bald Hills and the Opal Hills and of course leaving a perfect path for any wolves to follow into caribou country. However, the area will be officially closed on November 1st, then all we can do is hope for a huge dump of snow to fill in the tracks and discourage the wolves.

October 4, 2017

A wolf pup was seen in the long grass beside the road to the 5th Bridge parking lot yesterday morning. Lots of deer – both mule deer and white-tailed – have moved back down to the Athabasca Valley now for the winter so it should be a good place for wolves.

September 26-28

The wolves – in all probability the Sunwapta pack – were howling near the Maligne hostel before moving on up the valley. Yesterday the tracks of two wolves were seen at Maligne Lake. The moose are rutting in that area and there are quite a few calves so, if these are part of the Sunwapta pack, they may find that extra 15 km from Medicine Lake is worth their while. Hopefully they won’t go higher into caribou range. (Tracks of a wolverine were also seen at Maligne Lake)

September 12-25

One of the Sunwapta wolves was photographed by a visitor on the Snaring road September 12th. It was a male with a VHF collar. While it was in the Snaring area it seems that other members of the pack – one with a GPS collar – were located just east of the Maligne Canyon on the other side of the Athabasca River.

September 21

First reports coming in of wolves (and no wolves). Yesterday’s snowfall may help with random sightings of tracks.

The Sunwapta pack that used to use areas along the Icefields Parkway has moved further north and is now located closer to Jasper town site, Three grey adults – two of them collared – and two pups, one black and the other dark grey crossed the Jasper Park Lodge golf course at night a couple of weeks ago.

The old Sunwapta female that is collared travels alone now anywhere between the Maligne Valley and the south boundary of the park.

The Robson pack is moving back and forth over the west boundary of the park. No information on how many or what colours.

No sign of any wolves around the Devona area which is disappointing as there was a pack of at least eight last year. Hopefully they are off visiting another part of their territory. There was one fairly fresh track seen on the highway side of Jasper Lake.

Once the bears have gone into hibernation our attention turns to wolves and their fascinating comings and goings make the park a very interesting place in winter.

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 March 14, 2017 – Pack of three wolves south of Jasper town – 2 males and 1 female, all grey. Now collared.

March 8 & 9 2017 – Tracks of two wolves on the lower Maligne Road near the 5th Bridge then at the Skyline trailhead – one of them with very large feet. (Could this be a mated pair? Another few weeks until denning time.)

February 22 2017 – One ‘dark’ wolf seen in the Pocohontas area in the past week

January 30, 2017 – Tracks of four wolves coming out of the Beaver Lake area. They turned north and travelled along the Maligne road, cut across the north end of Medicine Lake and continued down the road with numerous sorties – presumably checking for deer and moose – before moving east from the 6th Bridge area.

January 9, 2017  – Tracks of one wolf near Maligne Teahouse

Undated reports of wolves howling at Jasper Park Lodge and a sighting of five wolves at Yellowhead Lake,

December 23, 2016 – Pack of eight wolves at Talbot Lake (5 black and 3 grey)

December 22, – One collared grey/black wolf seen on the Maligne road near Maligne Lake

December 20, 2016 – Pack of five wolves in Talbot Lake area (3 black and two grey) Pack of three wolves in the 5 Lakes area

December 13, 2016 – Fresh tracks of two wolves at the Maligne hostel last night

December 10, 2016 – The tracks of three wolves were seen near the Watchtower parking lot today

December 6, 2016 – Four wolves seen at Edna’s Knoll (South end of Talbot Lake) ‘last week’; three grey and one black.

November 27, 2016 – Two black wolves were seen this morning on the Maligne Road near the turnoff to the Jasper Park Lodge.

November 17, 2016 – Tracks of two wolves were seen at the turnoff of the Maligne Road to the 6th Bridge heading towards Lake Edith. Two grey wolves have been detected several times by the Parks camera on Trail #7. Maybe it is the same pair in both locations.

November 9, 2016 – More reports  continue to come in: a pack of wolves with black pups has been seen in the Decoigne area over on the west side of the park and a sighting of one wolf south of Medicine Lake as well as a couple of grey wolves around the townsite. So it looks as though Jasper will have a healthy population of its top predator again this winter.

November 5th – Tracks of a pack of several wolves reported in the Rocky River area by Dick Dekker

Fall Update

One or two light snowfalls have revealed the tracks of a few wolves before melting away and leaving these elusive animals to pursue their hunts in secrecy once more.

In late October the tracks of three wolves were seen at the Bald Hills moving between the fire road and the Trapper Creek area and the tracks of possibly an adult and a younger wolf were seen between the Maligne Canyon teahouse and the 5th Bridge.

Fall 2016

We are now starting to hear of the first fall wolf sightings in the Athabasca Valley. Deer and elk have moved down from their summer ranges and the predators are returning with them. However, it will take a while to sort out which packs or individuals are using which landscapes.

Parks Canada’s only collared wolf – the old grey female of the Sunwapta pack – is still around but no word as to whether anyone has seen any others of that pack.

Wolves were heard howling behind Pyramid Lake recently. (This wildlife corridor area is closed to human access).

Unfortunately there have been two mortalities: a pup of the Robson pack was killed recently on the highway and another was euthanized after apparently also being hit by either a vehicle or a train. The latter may have been part of the Pyramid pack.

Still no word on how many of the Rocky River/Jacques Lake pack are still around after the snaring of the majority of that pack by a trapper just outside the park’s east boundary last winter.

We are waiting for word on the Devona pack.

Although we ascribe names to these packs according to where they have been seen, it is important to note that a pack’s territory is huge – sometimes more than 1500 square kms. The old Russian saying that “a wolf is kept fed by its feet” is certainly true of Jasper’s packs: they are constantly on the move and may not return to an area for two or three weeks.

The best way to keep tabs on their comings and goings is to find their tracks in the snow but that is still missing in the valley bottoms.

 

Winter of 2015/16

April 28th On JEA Blog a letter to the editor of the Jasper Fitzhugh regarding the need for a buffer zone along the east side of the park. Copied to the JEA Facebook page.

April 11th The trapping of more than half of the ‘Jacques Lake’ pack has led to some interesting information from the Alberta government. We know the killing of these wolves took place in Trapping Zone #5 which is a long narrow strip about 20-50 km wide running the full length of the eastern border of Jasper National Park. This area contains good ungulate habitat and park wolves are drawn out by the prospect of prey and also by ‘bait piles’ (made up of road kills and/or dead livestock) set out by trappers just outside the park boundary. In answer to our question of how many wolves have been killed in that zone over the past 5 years we were told there was an average of 74 wolves trapped annually (with a high of 112 in 2012). There is no doubt that many of those wolves would be from packs that include Jasper National Park as part of their territories. There is a need for a buffer zone in place of a trapping zone in order to adequately protect the park’s apex predators.

April 8th  Still no sign of any remaining wolves of the ‘Jacques Lake’ pack and the snow has virtually gone from the valley bottom now making it difficult to track anything.

March 8th Three black and three grey wolves were seen crossing Jasper Lake going north and the next day four black and five grey wolves were seen on the Snake Indian River – possibly all part of the same pack?

There has been no further sign of the remains of the ‘Jacques Lake’ pack. We now know that possibly four or five wolves were trapped outside the park (and we only know that because one wolf was collared and the collar was returned to Parks Canada). But this was a pack of seven wolves therefore two or three of them are still missing. Hopefully a pregnant female escaped being trapped.

February 26th Tracks of two wolves coming down a steep north slope hill near the Big Bend area of the Maligne Road. Are these the same two wolves mentioned January 11th that have been seen both in the Sunwapta and Maligne Road areas?

Tracks of two wolves leading down to the Maligne Road

Tracks of two wolves leading down to the Maligne Road

February 23rd One wolf of the ‘Jaques Lake pack’ was confirmed to have been snared by a trapper in the Hinton area. It was one of the two that were collared December 10th at Summit Lake. The collar was returned to Parks Canada which is how we knew that they had run into trouble. It was rumoured at the time that five other wolves were also trapped/snared but that has not been confirmed and we are still trying to find out exactly what happened. We need a snowfall so we can see just how many come back when they next travel down the Maligne Valley. This killing of one of Jasper’s chief predators illustrates once again why we need a trap-free buffer zone around the national parks.

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.

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.