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Questions about wolves...
by Dave Person


November 06, 2004

Brandy you ask good questions and I think I can answer most of them for you. I have conducted research on wolves and deer in southern Southeast Alaska since 1992. Part of that work was for my PhD. dissertation and part was for the Department of Fish and Game. People rarely seem to have moderate, well reasoned opinions about wolves. There are those who demonize wolves because they compete with them for moose and deer, or have killed pets. There are also those who virtually worship wolves as some god-like creature as fragile as glass. Both viewpoints are ridiculous nonsense. Wolves are neither the destroyers of all game populations or the benign consumers of the sick and injured. Predator-prey dynamics in SE are very complicated and involve prey, multiple predators (including bears), habitat, weather, and people. In some cases wolves can have a large effect on deer numbers particularly on small islands and after bad winters. At other times, black bears are the main player. Then again, where human access is easy such as along roads, people play a major role. For example, in 3 studies involving radiocollared deer in SE Alaska, 60-85% of adult male deer collared near roads were eventually killed by hunters. On Prince of Wales Island we have monitored 79 mostly female or fawn deer. During the 4 years of the study, 11% of those deer were killed by hunters, 9% were killed by wolves, 26% were killed by bears, and 3% died from other causes. Clearly, multiple critters prey on deer. However, even with those rates of mortality, deer numbers increased within the study area because of their high reproductive rates. There are times, particularly after bad winters or in areas of poor deer habitat, that wolves can push deer down to very low numbers, but that is not the norm. On Prince of Wales Island wolves are not the main influence on deer population-- habitat, people, and bears are. On Revilla Island wolf predation particularly after the winter of 1998-99 contributes to a low deer population but are unlikely the only cause, despite the wild claims made in some recent Sitnews letters.

The studies you may have remembered likely were done by Dr. Dave Mech in Minnesota or in the Arctic. Reproduction by wolves does respond to density of prey but not in the way you described. Basically when food is limited many pups die at young ages. However, wolves don't just feed on deer or moose, they also eat marine mammals, beaver, goats, waterfowl, salmon and even black bears. Thus they have some alternative foods that can buffer them temporarily when deer or moose numbers are low. That is one of the reasons wolves can depress prey numbers to very low levels under some circumstances. Generally, only 1 pair of wolves in a pack breed and raise pups. The other females usually do not produce litters.

Finally, wolves normally do not pose any serious risk to people. They are simply wild animals and should be respected as such. However, there are rare cases in North America in which wolves have attacked people. In most of those cases the wolves had lost their fear of humans or had been incensed by the presence of dogs. Wolves, like bears, that become habituated to humans may pose a threat to humans and their pets.

I hope this info helps.

Dave Person
Ketchikan, AK - USA


Related Viewpoint:

Wolf Hunting by Brandi Conway - Ketchikan, AK - USA



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