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Researchers document decreased Denali wolf sightings

By KTVA CBS 11 News 11:52 AM November 27, 2013

North of the Alaska Range, scientists report record low pack numbers

ANCHORAGE – National Park Service researchers report decreased wolf sightings in Denali National Park for the third year in a row.

The data is based on sightings reported by visitors touring the park by bus. In 2010, nearly half of all bus tours surveyed reported seeing wolves. In 2011, the number dropped to 21 percent, and decreased to 12 percent in 2012.

Last summer, wolves were spotted on just four percent of bus tours.

“Harvest of wolves, particularly breeding animals, has the potential to decrease wolf numbers, influence social structure and reproduction, alter wolf behavior and decrease opportunities for wolf viewing,” read an NPS statement on the new data. “Even if harvest occurring outside of the park has little effect on larger-scale wolf population dynamics, it may still have significant effects on visitor experiences.”

The national park began studying its wolf population in 2010 in cooperation with researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Over the previous decade, the State of Alaska had prohibited hunting and trapping in areas bordering the park to protect two wolf packs often seen by park visitors. The ban was lifted in 2010.

Dr. Philip Hooge, a scientist with the NPS, said his agency continues to study the complex relationship between wolf populations and reported sightings.

“We are just beginning to learn about the factors, such as pack disruption, that play a role in magnifying the impacts of individual wolf losses on viewability,” Hooge said.

Scientists have also noticed a decline in pack numbers north of the Alaska Range. According to an NPS statement, pack numbers decreased from 66 animals in 2012 to 55 last summer.

It’s the lowest documented number since the pack counts began in 1986, researchers said.

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