Denali Wolf Update
 
I was able to complete a Denali wolf research flight on January 20, after several weeks of prohibitive flying weather and a trip out of state. There is mixed but generally good news to report.     As of that flight, the high profile eastern groups seemed to be doing well, albeit in areas only hours (or less) from the same northeast park boundary traplines that continue to do much damage.  Following is a brief report on five of these groups.
 
The young adult female of the Margaret pair whose mate was trapped in December 2008 (Dec. 23 blog entry) was still in the northeast boundary area but now with another, adult-sized wolf of undetermined sex and origin.  Both seemed to be in good condition.
 
The Toklat wolves were in an area where they were somewhat difficult to observe.  However, I could determine that at least 14-15 and possibly as many as 17 wolves were present.  This means that probably most if not all of the 8-9 Toklat adults and subadults that were together at the end of last winter and the 7-9 pups they produced in May 2008 are still around, with occasional temporary separations of a few from the others. This winter and last, the Toklat family has been ranging fairly regularly up to about 10 miles (16 km) eastward of its traditional territory, into a historically good moose and sheep area where the Savage family once ranged and 4-5 successive groups have done poorly in the face of continued trapping, hunting, and other human impacts.  Toklat rarely ventured to this area in the days of Savage’s strong presence or even during the shorter histories of some of the succeeding groups.    
 
This represents another confounding variable, i.e., for which a human cause cannot be eliminated - another obstacle to conducting badly needed research about natural behavior, patterns, and processes.  And it means Toklat is spending more time closer to the high risk northeast and east boundary areas.  About two weeks ago, Toklat was a few miles (km) or less from one of the northeast boundary wolf traplines, according to the National Park Service’s GPS satellite locations (T. Meier, pers. comm.). Recall from earlier blog entries that Toklat was missing at least seven wolves after a similar short, unpredictable trip to the northeast boundary area in February 2008, and that at least one of these wolves eventually returned with a snare around his neck, then disappeared.  
 
A male and female were attempting to recolonize the eastern area with the five pups they produced there in summer 2008 (December 23, blog entry, especially paragraphs 7-8).  They suffered a major setback on November 27, 2008 when the female was fatally injured after being struck by a vehicle.  Not much has been determined about these wolves since then.  Evidently the male and pups are still around, as suggested by some of the Toklat wolves’ behavior while in the area, for example the scenting shown in the December 2008 photo at the top of this page. Another uncollared pair of adults had been observed occasionally in the eastern area 6-7 miles (10 km) to the south of the above pair and five pups, but on December 25 one of these two, a large male, was also struck and killed by a vehicle.
 
West of the established Toklat territory, a group that has become well known in recent years, i.e., Toklat West/Grant Creek, is holding its own.  All six of the wolves (2 adults, 4 pups) that were present for most of the fall and winter were still together within their usual territory on the last flight.  Two other pups disappeared sometime in late September or early October.  As if to reiterate how quickly the situation can change, on December 12-14, 2008 the Toklat West wolves suddenly left their usual area and ventured 10-15 miles (16-24 km) eastward, to within 7-8 miles (11-13 km) of the northeast boundary trapping area, before returning home.
 
The usual northeastward winter shift of Denali caribou into Stampede Flats, in the north park boundary area, is underway.  The major surviving resident wolf family of this area, Stampede (Chitsia), is doing well; all eight of these wolves (4 adults, 4 pups) were still together as of the last flight.  Unfortunately Stampede lives just west of the northeast boundary trapping area and thus could get into trouble quickly.  Go to the November 18, 2008 blog entry and top of the Reports page to see photos of the Stampede wolves howling together.  Within the next few days or so I will be posting a sequence of photos of these wolves from last week, chasing caribou.
 
Updates on two related fronts:
 
• The sick economy has just visited this research, via a major budget cut for 2009.  This will sharply reduce the amount of all-important research flying that I am able to do, unless something can be done about the shortfall.  Each flight costs $1,000-1,500.  Please donate if you can (go to Contribute page), indicating that your donation is for this wolf research.  Thanks.
 
• The Alaska Department of Natural Resources issued a final decision on the proposed Denali-area land transfers last week.  For background, go to the January 18, 2009 blog entry.  The decision is to proceed with these transfers, without any changes in the November 2008 preliminary decision.  There is no indication in the final decision that my December 2008 comments were considered in any meaningful way.  I will file an administrative appeal within the required 30-day period.                              
Jan 27, 2009
Led by the alpha male at the front of the line, wolves of the Toklat family scent excitedly along recent wolf tracks in an area east of their established territory.  As of January 20, 2009, Toklat still consisted of at least 14-15 and possibly 17 wolves.