Number of Alaska Wolves Drops by More Than 50 Percent: Predator Control Program to Blame

First Posted: Apr 13, 2013 09:03 AM EDT

Wolves in Alaska are known to have healthy population numbers. Yet now, it turns out that Alaska's predator control program has resulted in the number of wolves in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve to drop by more than half.

The National Park service counted 80 wolves over nine packs in November 2012. This spring, though, the numbers have dropped drastically. Biologists have only been able to account for 28 to 39 wolves in six different packs--it's the highest drop in numbers since the park service began tracking wolves 19 years ago.

It isn't unusual for wolf numbers to experience a slight dip over the winter. Hunting and natural causes can help cull the population. However, this spring reveals an unprecedented drop, and biologists with the National Park Service are attributing the aerial predator control program as the key cause for this fall in numbers.

"We need to keep that balance in check, we need to make sure we have a relatively undisturbed ecosystem, and that includes that predator and prey balance--predator-prey relationship," said Debora Cooper, Associate Regional Director for Resources with the Park Service, in an interview with

Wolves act as predators, hunting in packs and eating the weakest prey animals. This, in turn, allows the wolves' prey to build up strong and healthy genetic populations since the frailest are culled before they can reproduce. In particular, the predators play an important role in keeping the forty-mile caribou herd in Alaska at healthy levels.

"The herd is beginning to show signs of nutritional stress," said Cooper in an interview with "The ramifications that has to a national preserve is there's some deterioration of the habitat--like over-grazing, or where there's so many caribou they begin to not have enough to eat."

The Board of Game plans to take up the topic of predator control in the region this spring in order to decide if it should continue.  If control does continue, though, it's possible that caribou will begin to decline along with the wolves.

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