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Park Services Releases Survey Results for Denali Wolves

Fairbanks, AK - The National Park Service this week released the results of this year’s fall wolf count.   The final numbers indicate that the wolf population in Denali National Park and Preserve has fallen by 61% since an all-time high 147 wolves were counted in 2007.  But Biologists are quick to point out that the data don’t necessarily mean the wolf population is in serious decline.

Counting wolves is not for people with motion sickness, vertigo or a fear of flying. “You’re circling repeatedly and you feel the bumps up and down and your stomach can lurch a little bit," laughs Bridget Borg.  She is a wildlife biologist with the National Park Service.  This week, the agency released the results from their fall season aerial wolf surveys in Denali National Park and Preserve.

“So far our counts are on the lower end, but not necessarily outside the range of natural variation,” she says.

The Park service counted 57 wolves in 9 packs that live inside the park.  It’s the second lowest count since the Park Service began surveying the wolf population in 1986, but Borg says there are a number of factors that affect the region’s wolf population.

“The numbers reflect underlying ecological and natural variation," she explains. "Now in years with less snow, like right now, it’s really easy for caribou to get around and look for food sources and so when wolves are traveling around and looking for prey, it might be difficult for them to find it because they caribou they do encounter are in good condition.”

Wildlife advocates argue that low numbers this fall confirm their fears about the decline of the Denali-region wolf population.  Conservation organizations in the state filed three petitions with the Alaska Board of Game over the summer to re-establish a protective buffer for wolves along the northeastern boundary of the park.  The petitions were denied.  The groups argue that the Board prioritizes sport hunting and trapping in the region.  But the Board says there is no scientific evidence that the wolf population in the Denali area faces a critical decline.  

Borg says the fall count does not include uncollared wolf packs that might live inside the park boundary.  The Park Service will continue surveying wolves this winter.  The agency also conducts regular aerial surveys in the spring.

Conservation Biologist Rick Steiner sent a request this week to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell asking for the an emergency order that would close state lands east of Denali National Park to hunting and trapping wolves.  The season opened November first.  Steiner made a similar request last May after Park Service biologists reported the dispersal of the Grant Creek Wolf Pack.  One breeding female from that pack died of natural causes.  A second was trapped last spring.  The pack did not produce pups this year.  Data from Park Service wolf surveys this year indicate that viewing success within the park has declined from 45-percent in 2010, to 12-percent in 2012.