Wasting no time in the New Year

If my resolution was to try new things this year, I’m off to an unsustainable pace.
I spent New Year’s Eve in a camp on a wolf trap checking expedition with two locals.

The gun is just for show. It's not mine, and I didn't shoot them.
The gun is just for show. It’s not mine, and I didn’t shoot them.

I wanted to better understand the process of trapping wolves and get an idea for how many were around. Thanks to their near eradication in the Lower 48, wolves have been the subject of intense protection efforts and Alaska is not immune. However, in some areas wolf populations have recovered to the point the predator/prey dynamic is out of balance. Still, the national attitude is to protect wolves so most management (especially aerial hunts) is met with resistance. On Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska there is a movement to get wolves protection. However, locals argue the population is healthy enough to endure subsistence trapping. Additionally, the primary food source for wolves on the island is deer and a wolf will eat 100 in a year. Depending on the wolf population estimates you look at, that means that wolves eat between 15,000-30,000 per year. Deer also happens to be a primary food source for residents on the island. Locals worry that if wolves receive protection, the island will lose it’s healthy deer population.

Wolves left almost nothing behind.
Wolves left almost nothing of this deer. 

The guys trapped on half a dozen or so inlets and there was plenty of evidence of wolves, but it’s difficult to extrapolate what that means about the wolf population on the rest of the island.

If the population is low as a the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace says, then removing humans as predators would ensure the survival of wolves.
However, if the wolf populations are already healthy as many locals claim, with wolves having 4-7 pups per litter, the wolf population could grow swiftly and with deer the primary food source for wolves, deer populations could be decimated. Once the prey population is reduced, predators starve.

So what I know for sure:
– There are a bunch of wolves where the boys trap
– Wolves are smart. Two traps were dug up and moved without being sprung
– Wolves kill deer

Should be an interesting 2014.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. shelley stallings in Ketchikan says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the thought provoking column on wolf trapping. Rarely do I read a piece that tries to straddle the fence on this highly charged subject. I will preface my further remarks with stating I am on the anti-trapping side. Although I grew up in a hunting family and spent the first couple decades of my life as an enthusiastic hunter of deer and elk, my thoughts about the relationship between the top predator on earth, man, and other species changed after studying wildlife biology at CSU. Learning more about the complexities of nature and the inter-connectiveness of all life on this planet made me more aware of how often we get it wrong when we try to ‘manage’ wildlife. Governmental agencies bring human bias against certain species, mostly predators, and in favor of other species, usually ones that provide immediate financial gain to people; i.e., big game animals and livestock. Politicians, with little or no knowledge or training in wildlife biology, get involved by passing laws to manage or control (kill) the bad animals (top of the food chain predators). This inevitably leads to more and greater problems and seldom (read never) provides a real solution to the perceived issue.

    My understanding of science (admittedly possibly flawed) tells me that killing wolves or any other predator will not insure a healthy population of deer. The best means of doing this is insuring we humans do not harm or destroy the deer habitat.

    Shelley Stallings in Ketchikan

    1. Thanks for the comment. Clearly both sides are reliant on assumptions and theoretical results. I agree that the less the federal government is involved the better. Politicians are given studies done to match desired results which justify the expense paid by special interests on both sides. It is a mess. These issues must be discussed and settled at a state level for sure. Additionally, using resources needed to sustain human life should not come at the cost of an entire or substantial part of a species. That of course brings us back to surveys which are supposed to provide insight into population and potential impact.

  2. Jon says:

    Jeff,
    I grew up on POW with you. I trapped them wolves. Them wolves have bean hunted and trapped with very liberal regulations since long before you and I were born. Easily the last 60 years or more. Yet despite all the logging, mining, trapping, and hunting the population persists at a level that continues to sustain itself ( I won’t head down the rabbit hole discussing “healthy” population opinion).
    Logging has bean greatly curtailed in the last few decades, trapping hasn’t undergone any significant change in decades, and hunting remains very much unchanged as well. The only thing that has changed for the wolf in the last few decades is the environmentalist movement.
    Logic would seem to indicate there is no current risk to the population.
    Another consideration. There aren’t just wolves on POW, they are also on all the larger surrounding islands. Same as deer. Yes, we trapped them there also. The terrain is such that harvest through trapping and hunting is limited more by access than by regulation. Much of the south end of the island is wilderness and not easily accessed. Many of the larger islands and more remote sections of POW are also not financialy accessible to trap.
    I like wolves. I see no reason we can’t have it like it is now well into the future. We didn’t need a lawsuit by some environmental extremists to get where we are with the wolf population on POW. No reason we’d need one to sustain the status quo.
    The original environmentalists, the “sportsmen”, got us here. Read up on the Pittman-Robertson act if you don’t already know of it.

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