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Denali National Park and Preserve
unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it
is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes
that country from all other land. It tingles the spine of all who
hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day."
- Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.
eyes through the willow brush, a silhouette loping along a distant
tundra ridge, or the haunting chorus of the pack - to see or hear
a wolf, even in Alaska, is a rare treat. The animal that once roamed
America from the tropics to the tundra now survives only in isolated
pockets in the contiguous 48 states. In the North however, wolves
haunt the same braided river valleys and rocky ridges as their long-ago
ancestors. Between 7,000 and 10,000 wolves inhabit Alaska, approximately
100 of them within Denali National Park and Preserve.
of the Wolf - Between
12 and 18 wolf packs roam Denali in territories that range from
200 to 800 square miles. These packs are a strong social unit whose
core is the alpha male and female wolf and their offspring. The
wolf pack works as a team to hunt, to protect, and to raise the
spring's pups. Such cooperation and sharing of food is rare in the
animal world. While eight to ten wolves is an average pack size,
one Denali pack was recorded with 27 members and three litters of
mouths abound when the wolf pups are born. The pack hunts night
and day to feed the mother wolf and her pups. Keen vision and a
sense of smell one hundred times better than ours does not assure
success in the hunt however. A wolf may travel ten hours a day to
find the daily five to ten pounds of meat it needs. While a meal
is anything from a mouse to a moose, the most common prey in Denali
is caribou, Dall sheep, moose, beaver, and ground squirrels.
Wolves, like humans,
communicate in many ways. How a wolf carries its tail reveals its
mood and its rank within the pack. Howling announces a wolf's presence,
allows pack members to keep track of each other, and announces a
kill site. Howling and scent marking may reduce conflicts between
packs, acting like a fence to mark property.
With a brain nearly twice
the size of the domestic dog and a highly developed social organization,
the wolf still faces many challenges. Some young wolves leave their
family pack, traveling hundreds of miles in search of empty territory
and mates. These loners are vulnerable and many die. The leading
cause of natural death is wolves killing each other, often over
territory disputes. Starvation, disease, and accidents also take
their toll. The average life expectancy of a wolf is only three
to four years.
The largest wolf captured
in Denali weighed 135 pounds. Adults wolves in Denali average 85
pounds for females and 105 pounds for males. Unlike the bear or
the mountain lion, during pup rearing both male and female wolves
produce the hormone prolactin, known as the "nurturing hormone."
Wolves are generally
shy and wary. There are no accounts of wolves attacking people in
Denali, and few accounts in North America. In Denali the wolf is
but another animal engaged in the daily struggle for life in the
Place of Refuge
- The wolf population of Alaska is healthy but not free from human
pressures. Development reduces habitat. Hunting, trapping, and predator
control programs take several hundred wolves each year. Denali National
Park and Preserve offers wolves a place where human impacts are
minimized. "Denali is important because it is as close to an
entire naturally functioning ecosystem as we can come in the North.
Wolves are a part of this story, " says Layne Adams, wildlife
biologist with the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological
Place of Study - Denali also offers an outstanding opportunity
for comparative studies with wildlife populations that are more
heavily hunted or trapped. Between 1939 and 1941, Dr. Adolph Murie
conducted one of the first formal studies of wolves anywhere, here
at Denali. By dog team and on foot, Murie spent thousands of hours
observing wolves and their prey. There are now 60 years of research
and observation on the East Fork pack that Murie first observed.
Today research on wolves throughout the park continues with the
use of aircraft, radio telemetry, molecular genetics, and biochemistry.
is Different - In an increasingly urban world, many Alaskans
still depend on a cycle of the seasons - spring waterfowl hunting,
summer runs of salmon, berry picking, fall moose and caribou hunting
and the income from winter fur trapping. For rural residents these
natural resources ensure more than survival, they sustain a traditional
subsistence way of life.
In 1980, an unprecedented
bill was signed into law. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation
Act (ANILCA) set aside approximately 100 million acres of this state's
land and resources for enduring preservation. It tripled the size
of Mt. McKinley National Park, and renamed the area "Denali
National Park and Preserve."
Included in this legislation
was a recognition of the importance of the connection between people
and the land. In Denali, as long as wildlife populations are maintained
in a natural and healthy condition, subsistence hunting and trapping
of wildlife is allowed in the 1980 land additions.