A survey of wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve this spring turned out the fourth lowest count since biologists started keeping track of the animals nearly 30 years ago. Park Service officials say the numbers show a decline in the population, but they haven’t settled on an explanation.
This year, biologists counted 51 wolves among thirteen packs in a 17,640 square kilometer area. That’s approximately the same size as 94 football fields. Simple arithmetic shows this year’s is the lowest wolf population density ever recorded in the Park and Preserve.
“We do think there’s been a real decline in wolves over the last six or eight years,” Park Biology Program Manager Steve Arthur said. “Not a super steep decline, and we’re at about the level that we were in the early 90’s, which was following a decline in wolves that was in response to a reduction in caribou abundance.”
There hasn’t been a recent decline in the caribou population. In fact, Arthur says caribou numbers are slowly increasing. But he says they have moved to the north and east end of the Park. The lowest numbers of wolves were recorded on the west side of the park, where there are fewer caribou.
But Arthur doesn’t have an explanation for why total population and population density estimates of wolves are so low.
“Whether this is a serious decline, I guess this is a matter of interpretation. Certainly the numbers are low, we wouldn’t want the numbers to get much lower than that,” he said. “The question is: what is driving that? We’re fairly uncertain as to what’s going on and that’s why we’re monitoring the situation.”
Biologists count wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve twice a year. Counts in the fall will provide information about the number of wolf pups born this spring.