April 22, 2015

Click here to see a photo of the wolf where it was found.  
(National Park Service photo)
Be advised: some viewers may find the photo upsetting.

A young male wolf from the East Fork pack in Denali National Park was found dead last month inside the park, entangled in a snare which had been set on state land outside of the park.

Sadly, the wolf was very likely snared on state land adjacent to the park that the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and others have tried repeatedly to set aside as a no trapping or hunting “buffer zone” for the wolves. In 2013 the Alaska Board of Game twice denied Emergency Petitions to create a buffer. Late last year Alaska Department of Fish & Game Commissioner Sam Cotten denied a request for a buffer zone. And in March – just a day after the snared wolf was found, but not yet publicly reported – the Alaska Board of Game unanimously denied yet another Emergency Petition to create a buffer zone adjacent to the park.

The wolf was radio-collared for tracking and study, and a mortality signal from its collar led biologists to its body. According to a report from park wildlife biologist Stephen Arthur, the wolf had a snare wire around its neck, but the collar had prevented the wire from tightening enough to cause suffocation. The wolf had managed to pull the snare anchor free and, dragging the wire, traveled miles back into its home territory.

A necropsy revealed that the wire eventually severed the wolf’s carotid artery and it bled to death. It was found near the Sanctuary River (approximately Mile 23 on the park road), about three miles south of the road.

Although the wolves are protected within the park, hunting and trapping is legal on state lands adjacent to the park. Trappers target the wolves during winter as they cross the park boundary following prey animals. The trapping season will close on April 30.

Although the wolf was found by park biologists on March 12, the park did not confirm rumors circulating regarding a dead, snared wolf until April 20.

The wolf was captured and collared in March, 2014 as a 10-month-old pup. Monthly radiotracking flights located him just twice during the past winter: on January 20 he was with the East Fork pack just north of the park border in the headwaters of Dry Creek, and on February 14 he was at a recently killed moose carcass near the Sanctuary River. During a March 4 flight the mortality signal from his collar was detected near the latter location.

According to Arthur, the East Fork pack was estimated to consist of 17 wolves in November 2014; so far this spring there are 14 wolves confirmed as still present in the pack. Whether the other two missing wolves died or dispersed is unknown.

The snared wolf is one of seven collared wolves from the park that died during the past year. According to Arthur, the causes of death of the other six were: one killed by wolves, one died of old age, one drowned, one starved, one was legally shot outside the park, and one cause of death is unknown but without evidence of human involvement.

A buffer zone similar to the recent proposals existed from 2002 until 2010, when it was eliminated by the Board of Game in a 4-3 vote.

The park’s own population surveys clearly show that the wolf population is declining.   In the fall of 2014 there were just 50 wolves counted in the six million acre park and preserve, down from 143 wolves in the fall of 2007– a precipitous drop of almost two-thirds in just seven years. The total of just 50 wolves was the lowest in the park’s historical record, and is likely to remain at a similar low level. The park’s spring 2015 population count is due to be released shortly.

Very predictably, wolf-viewing success for the park’s half-million annual visitors has dropped accordingly. Since the previous buffer was scraped, the viewing success rate has dropped from 44 percent in 2010 to just 4 percent in 2013 (the most recent data available).

AWA and others will continue to aggressively pursue a buffer zone to protect the Denali wolves.