Between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, a professional crew hired by Parks Canada used a helicopter to find wolves through their tracks in the snow. They then dropped a net on one or two of the larger animals in several different packs to fit them with the high-tech collars. “We managed to radio collar five different wolves from three packs,” said Saundi Norris, a resource management officer for wildlife in Banff National Park.
They include an adult male from the Bow Valley pack, a five-member pack; a male and a female from the five-member Red Deer pack; and, a male and female from the seven-member Fairholme pack.
Wolves have a top-down effect on the ecosystem in the park, with previous research showing that their numbers affect the survival, fertility and population growth of elk, deer, moose and caribou. It has a cascading effect on plants such as aspen and shrubs, which then affects birds and other mammals.
Norris, who noted they’ve been monitoring wolves since 2009, said the collaring process will provide additional data on how wolves are using Banff National Park. “It overall helps us better understand predation habits and behaviours in wolves,” she said. “This time, in particular, there’s four main reasons for collaring these wolves and it encompasses a bunch of different research initiatives.”
They include how much time wolves are spending in caribou range; how wolves are using the Bow Valley Parkway during the annual spring closure; how they use wildlife corridors, which will help a researcher with his project; and, how they prey on mountain goats. “We don’t know if that is a recent phenomenon or if their diet has shifted because of other declines in prey sources, which are typically elk,” said Norris, noting the data will help wildlife officials understand whether they are consistently preying on mountain goats.
She added that the research has many dimensions. “It’s amazing what (we can do with) data from a few wolves and what types of research questions that can feed into,” she said.
Norris said it will also help wildlife experts to keep an eye on the Bow Valley pack, which has been spotted many times this year as it hunts for prey around the Banff townsite.
“It will be amazing, actually,” she said, noting the wolves appear to have keyed into the fact that some of the elk population use town as a sanctuary and are now being opportunistic.
Although the Bow Valley pack has been hanging around the townsite, it uses the entire Bow Valley from the eastern park boundary near Canmore to Bow Summit.
The Fairholme pack, which also uses the Bow Valley, spends its time on the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Canmore, and around Lake Minnewanka.
Less is known about the Red Deer pack, other than it spends time in the Red Deer and Clearwater valleys.
It’s believed there are at least two other packs that use Banff National Park — one in the Cascade-Panther area and another in the Spray valley near Kananaskis.