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.
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.
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.