The gray wolf of North America includes several subspecies: the white arctic wolf, the red wolf of the southwest, the grey timber wolf of the eastern forests, and the big western wolf.
Alberta can boast some of the largest and most handsome of all wolves, which belong to the Canis lupus occidentalis group. They are mostly confined to the Rocky Mountains, foothills, and boreal forest regions. Present-day wolves are estimated to around 7, in Alberta. As top predators, wolves play a valuable role in keeping wild ecosystems healthy.
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Wolves are a keystone species within the ecosystems in which they live, yet many Albertans and governing bodies have consistently undervalued them and treated them as pests instead of the amazing creatures they truly are. Why wolves — and possibly moose, deer, and elk — face extraordinary culling is a complex story that fails to include vitally important measures to preserve their wilderness habitat, which truly could save caribou from further declines.
Wolf persecution is as old as humans, and in Alberta it has been part of our culture ever since Europeans began moving into wolf habitat, which once included all of Alberta and in fact all of North America, with the exception of tropical regions. Prior to the spread of humans throughout the world, the wolf was the single most widely distributed land mammal. Now, on this continent, only the northern tier of Canada and parts of the USA, including Alaska, are home to healthy populations of wolves. Some municipalities and organizations such as Alberta Foundation for Wild Sheep and local Fish and Game associations are now offering bounties for dead wolves.
Though Alberta Environment and Parks is nominally responsible for managing wildlife in Alberta, they refuse to become involved in these highly questionable bounty schemes. The inter-relationship between wolves and their mostly wild ungulate prey is an essential part of healthy ecosystems, especially for wildlife that occupy large, intact tracts of wilderness.
For this inter-relationship to endure into the future, the following conditions must be met:. To the south of Canada, the wolf is listed as a threatened species under the American Endangered Species Act. Canada has no such deation for the wolf, despite the fact that it has been extirpated from much of its former habitat. In Alberta, wolves were afforded some protection inwhen they made the leap from vermin to being classified as fur-bearing carnivores.
This deation brings the wolf under provincial trapping and hunting regulations. Currently it may be taken by registered trappers during the winter and hunted as a trophy animal during the full hunting season from September until the end of May. On private lands, it can be killed at any time.
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It is also subject to periodic culls by provincial biologists when AEP deems it necessary. Even though a wolf management plan ensured that wolf control intended to enhance other wildlife needed the support of public opinion, this is rarely sought.
Wolves, like caribou, are the responsibility of the provincial government. Throughout most of the history of formal management of the wolf, it has been targeted as vermin and a problem animal.
New poisoning campaigns are being contemplated if the helicopter cull does not show positive for caribou recovery. In essence, twenty-first-century wolf management differs little from that of two centuries ago. However, unlike the similarly persecuted but slow-breeding grizzly bear, the wolf is resilient, and if conditions become favourable, it has always been able to bounce back to healthy s in a matter of only a few years.
The subspecies of wolf that resides in Alberta belongs to the Canis lupis occidentalis group, which includes the largest animals. The average winter weight for Alberta males is 48 kg lbs. Very social by nature, wolves live in packs that average four to eight animals but may be as low as two and as high as Loners are usually outcasts that exist in the shadows of more formalized packs. A pack is dominated by an alpha male and female, which often, but not always, are the sole breeding pair in the pack.
Wolf pups enjoy care and training by the entire pack. A wolf pack may cover a distance of more than km in a single day and lay claim to a large territory of to km 2. The boundary is marked repeatedly with urine and scat that al possession. This territory may then be defended by the pack from other possible wolf intruders. Wolves eat anything from mice to moose. Occasionally wolves dine on birds, berries, insects like grasshoppers, and, in the vicinity of humans, garbage and various livestock from chickens to cattle.
Their penchant for taking what is easiest to get has long put wolves in conflict with humans and is a reason for centuries of war against wolves. Although wolves in captivity have about the same life span as their cousin the dog, wolves in the wild lead precarious lives and often die young. Attacking and bringing down large prey such as a moose is dangerous and often in injury or death to the wolf.
Wolves can scent game over 1. They capture fleet-footed ungulates by running them down and throwing their weight against the animals to knock them off balance.
Often a pack member closes in behind its prey and attacks the rear or the legs with powerful jaws, while other wolves grab the nose or the throat. As soon as the victim drops, the pack begins to eat. Wolf packs kill an ungulate on average every 2. Usually the pack remains with a kill until it is fully consumed. Wolves will take more prey than they can eat if it is plentiful.
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Scavengers often profit from the leftovers of wolf kills. If necessary, a wolf can survive for more than two weeks without food, but then must gorge and digest vast amounts when a kill is made. On average, an individual wolf will eat 2.
In wolf habitat, densities vary remarkably from one wolf per 10 km 2 to one every 80 km 2. Wolves howl in order to contact and locate their pack members. Each pack member sings or howls at a slightly different pitch and is recognized by the others. Wolves detect howls from up to 10 km away. Alberta wolves breed between late February and early March, with the gestation period being around 60 days. Four to seven pups weighing about half a kg each are born in earth dens in late April through early May. They do so by transporting the food in their stomachs and regurgitating it at the den.
Pups are born blind and deaf, opening their eyes 10 to 15 days after birth. Lesser status adults may act as babysitters. At one month old, pups are already fighting for dominance in pup hierarchy, and at two months, they are able to howl.
This is when the den is usually deserted. By six months of age the pups measure 1. At 22 months, pups have reached sexual maturity. Young animals generally leave the family pack as yearlings but may disperse anytime between 9 and 28 months of age. Viable populations are key to maintaining wolves. The long-term Alberta goal is to develop an annual wolf inventory and to sustain a mid-winter wolf population of 4, animals.
To maintain this of wolves, healthy populations of hoofed mammals are required. It is estimated that at leastungulates are needed to supply 30, prey animals annually to a population of 4, wolves. The challenge facing this management plan is mainly the low and locally declining populations of elk, moose, and especially woodland caribou.
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Also, because wolves inhabit forested areas, they are hard to observe, making an annual inventory difficult or impossible. To keep the wolf population under control, Sustainable Resource Development has suggested an annual removal of a maximum of 1, wolves, mainly through hunting and trapping. Trapping would be the prime consideration. Strategies for wolf harvesting include the following:. Wolves have been targeted for killing livestock ever since Europeans settled the prairie in the s. This is the reason the first wolf bounties were instituted, and many ranchers still encourage wolf hunting on their private and leased lands.
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The Alberta government will attempt to lessen wolf threats to livestock and pets through the following:. Another official Alberta goal is to improve the conservation, research, and wildlife management of the wolves by these means:. Wolf culling remains to be a management component to stabilize certain woodland caribou herds within the province. AWA believes using the wolf cull for caribou recovery is an unethical band-aid measure, while caribou habitat continues to deteriorate.
AWA raised concerns about snaring and bounties, continuing to be a voice for measured, effective, and humane approaches to wolf management. AWA staff member visited two predator friendly ranches both sheep and cattle and subsequently promoted their innovative techniques to AWA members and the general public. The federal government seeks comment on a draft recovery strategy for Southern Mountain caribou.
AWA comments that recovery actions are too focused on killing predators, mainly wolves, and not focused enough on recovering caribou habitat.