Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Predator Chain

"It's entirely fascinating to see how far these wolves were travelling each day to go out, hunt, find food and then bring it back to the pups and the mom."
"For decades they were persecuted -- inside the park, outside the park."
"We had several decades without wolves in Banff National Park. As a consequence, our elk population just boomed."
"Some of the large packs, in the backcountry especially, had this abundant prey population. We had some large packs. You would travel the backcountry and you would be seeing wolf tracks and find lots of wolf kills and see wolves chasing elk up open slopes. It was just a fascinating time. The wolves eat lots of elk."
"Right now, from a caribou perspective, things are much better in terms of wolf density. There are fewer wolves so caribou would have larger survival rates. The other question, if we do decide to reintroduce caribou to Banff, is how much time wolves are spending in caribou range? If wolves are spending a lot of time in the summer in caribou range, then they are still not safe."
"We have 25 to 40 wolves that use Banff, depending on the time of year."
Jess Whittington, wildlife biologist, Banff National Park
A female wolf with cubs caught on remote camera in Banff National Park. Parks Canada / For the 
Calgary Herald
"They are a major influence on any system that they live in. They're what we refer to as an apex predator in these systems. Most species they are associated with, and those they aren't even directly associated with, are influenced by them."
"When wolves kill another animal, such as an elk or deer or caribou, what's the response of other species near them or around them?"
"They found [Yellowstone research] extensive changes were occurring, including larger trees such as aspen had started to recover. They found changes in the bird community ... changes in streams and rivers -- a whole variety of things."
"They [wolves] are very influential, probably more so than any other species that lives in the Rockies."
Paul Paquet, wolf scientist, professor, University of Calgary

Wildlife biologist Jesse Whittington took part in an experiment. Watching where a wolf pup researchers named Skoki -- born in 2008 in the Bow Valley was fitted with a GPS collar -- left his place of birth for a higher elevation, to the Bonnet Glacier and Wapta Icefield through a former caribou range close by Lake Louise. Hunting mountain goats coming down from the craggy cliffs that is their home.

They watched as Skoki left his pack and went on to Kananaskis Country, to form a pack of his own once he found a mate and fathered a set of pups in 2011. After that, contact was lost with Skoki, when his GPS collar became detached. But for the years Skoki was tracked, wildlife biologists studying wolf populations in the Bow Valley found quite a bit of information was delivered of valuable use.
Skoki‚Äôs family, the Bow Valley pack, on the Bow Valley Parkway in December 2013. Amar 
Athwal / For the Calgary Herald
Debate rages in British Columbia and Alberta over wolf culls, since both provinces have introduced them to protect endangered caribou. Scientists from Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia consider those wolf culls to be inhumane. B.C.'s cull destroyed 84 wolves in a few months, using methods such as shooting them from a helicopter or trapping them in snares, or poisoning them with strychnine, a method Alberta does.

Alberta Environment and Parks officials stated the province is set to assess its management strategies geared toward meeting the recovery plan for endangered caribou under the federal Species at Risk plan. Wolves are decidedly a vitally important portion of the ecosystem. Research over the past 30 years undertaken by Paul Paquet, a world-leading wolf scientist, has demonstrated that wolves impact everything from insects and birds, to trees and rivers.

According to Dr. Paquet, 52 species have been tracked visiting wolf kill sites. Ranging from grizzly and black bears, cougars and lynx to weasels, wolverines and birds such as ravens, magpies, owls and rodents like voles. In the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Whittington of Banff National Park said, wolves had the opportunity to recolonize the park, learning their way around people in the Bow Valley.
A bird waits its turn as young wolves feed on a carcass in this remote camera image from Banff 
National Park. Dan Rafla/Parks Canada
Data gleaned from Skoki's GPS collar in 2009 and 2010 showed that Banff wolves were killing coyotes, deer, moose and mountain goats. The last herd of caribou in Banff National Park met its collective demise in an avalanche. The species is set to be introduced now through a captive breeding program the federal government announced in 2011.

Banff National Park is home to about five wolf packs with the Bow Valley pack down to three members; a pack in the Cascade-Fairholme area; a Red Deer pack around Saskatchewan River Crossing; a Panther-Cascade pack; and sometimes, a pack in the Spray Valley. Not an abundance of wolf population but presumably enough to sustain themselves on the available prey.

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