Denali wolf population up slightly

Denali wolf (Photo courtesy of National Park service)

A spring count shows a slight increase in number of wolves in Denali National Park.

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”Last year’s was at 72 animals. And this year is at 76,” Park science and resources team leader Dave Shirokauer said.

Shirokauer says the aerial count is still below average, but continues to rebound from a record low of 49 wolves in 2016. The state estimated last month that up to eight park wolves were trapped or shot outside Denali’s northeast boundary this past winter. Shirokauer says the take included the alpha male of the Riley Creek Pack, a wolf family group which was commonly seen last summer by visitors along the nearby park road.

“So we’re not really sure what’s going to happen yet this year. If they happen to get a new alpha male or a new male steps up and they breed this spring, then they may contribute to wolf leading opportunities. Too early to tell,” Shirokauer said.

“The kill of one park wolf along the boundary has led to the disintegration of one of the most viewed groups in the park,” Biologist and wildlife advocate Rick Steiner said.

Steiner, of Anchorage, suspects the Riley Creek pack will disperse, diminishing the chances of seeing them along the park road, a situation similar to what happened three years ago to the once commonly viewed East Fork Pack.

”The alpha female from East Fork was killed and that led to the ultimate complete disintegration of the pack,” Steiner said.

Steiner and other wildlife advocates have long pushed the state to ban wolf harvest outside the park’s northeast boundary, where wolves who live near the park road often cross onto state land. The most recent peak in Denali’s wolf population occurred between 2006 and 2008, when the boundary area was closed to wolf killing. The buffer was rescinded by the state game board in 2010.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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