Wolf : critical to ecological integrity
Updated January 26, 2015
Wolves are critical to the health of Jasper National Park’s ecosystem but in their search for food many of them cross over the park boundaries into the province of Alberta. Here they are in imminent danger of getting shot from a helicopter, caught in a leghold trap or snare or dying a gruesome death from a strychnine poison bait.
Why this war on wolves? It comes from the blatant mismanagement of the woodland caribou, a species that needs wilderness areas remote from other ungulates and their predators in order to survive. But the province’s wilderness has now been decimated by unremitting logging and oil and gas development and some caribou herds are in a spiraling dive towards extinction. Now, under the Species at Risk Act they are listed as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ and the province is legally obliged to save them.
Nothing has been done to halt the devastation of the caribou habitat. Instead, the wolf has been made the scapegoat. In the past seven years nearly 1000 of them have been killed in Alberta. All the killing is brutal but poisoning is something that was ended back in the 1950s because of its collateral killing of so many other species; lynx, coyote, fox, marten, fisher, wolverine, eagle and raven (to name but a few).
So Alberta continues to dig itself into an ever-deepening hole of environmental degradation and the contagion is spreading westwards. British Columbia is starting its own misguided war on wolves.
To voice your concerns see the Sierra Club campaign.
Status of the wolf packs January 2015
- Devona Pack in the eastern part of the park was seen at the beginning of November. Eleven wolves and possibly twelve.(See above)
- Pyramid Pack Tracks have been seen several times in the aspen woods at south end of Pyramid Lake. Also seen feeding on a train-killed bighorn sheep above the Moberly Bridge.
- Brazeau Pack south near the border of Jasper and Banff parks – only three wolves last year. That pack appears to have moved south out of Jasper park.
- Sunwapta Pack between Sunwapta Falls and Pyramid Bench had four wolves – three of them collared (this was the pack most likely to be able to access caribou habitat in the Tonquin Valley). There now appear to be three wolves with two of them collared – although only one collar may still be working.
- Signal Mountain Pack once a large pack of 12 was down to probably only two members last winter. This may now only constitute one large black wolf – seen at Maligne once this past summer and also recently on Medicine Lake. Sometime in the past few days a large wolf had traveled north on the Beaver Lake trail
- Snaring Pack east of Jasper town site in the Snaring River area had four uncollared greys last winter. Three wolves seen in this area recently. Also distant howling by other wolves.
- Robson Pack near the west boundary and over into British Columbia. Four of this pack were seen last week.
Note: On Christmas Day two bighorn sheep and one deer were killed at Medicine Lake and tracks have been seen near Beaver Lake on the Jacques Lake trail but it is not certain from which pack these wolves come.
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.