When it comes to monitoring animal species in the Central Alaska Network, we chose species that are spread across the trophic levels of park ecosystems. By doing this we will have a better chance of observing change wherever it may come. We can try to forecast what kinds of change may occur, but it's harder to predict precisely where it will happen, or what form it may take.
Wolves are a top-level predator, one of six keystone large mammal species in interior Alaska, and are specifically identified in the enabling legislation and management objectives of all three Central Alaska parklands. Wolves are good indicators of long-term habitat change within ecosystems because they depend on healthy populations of large ungulate prey (such as moose and caribou), which in turn respond to vegetation, weather, and other habitat patterns across the entire landscape.
Wolves are of great importance, particularly to Denali National Park and Preserve visitors, because of the opportunities to view wolves in that park. Information on wolf populations will allow managers to protect wolves in a variety of ways, including locating and isolating active dens from disturbance; determining whether wolves are being impacted by specific activities outside park boundaries (such as predator control); and evaluating the long-term changes in Alaska populations using genetic data gathered during radio collaring. As with caribou and moose, wolves are also harvested for both sport and subsistence in all three Central Alaska Network parks.
Both Denali National Park and Preserve and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve have hosted two of the longest-running wolf monitoring programs in the world. Due to the differences in park sizes and locations, the two datastreams provide a unique contrast between a population that is exposed to large-scale predator control and one that is constrained by sport and subsistence harvest.
We monitor wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve to:
Determine changes in wolf abundance, distribution, and population structure.
Estimate pup production and survival.
Estimate mortality, including human harvest of wolves in and around Central Alaska parks.