Denali National Park in Alaska has been home to the longest studied wolf pack in the world. The East Fork pack, also known as the Toklat pack. They were first observed in the 1930s and since then they have been subject to the longest ongoing study in the world. They suffered some losses through the years. In the late 90’s their numbers were reduced to just two wolves. The population, however, rebounded to ten. Their populating sadly fell back down to two wolves at the last time they were seen. Wildlife officials fear that the wolves have died, effectively ending the lineage of this wolf pack.
The decline of the Toklats, as well as other wolves and bears in Alaska, has been largely due to hunting and trapping. Wolf populations have regularly been managed in the past. Reasons for this have ranged from protection of people to sport hunting to the protecting caribou populations. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has regularly clashed with Alaska over their management of their large predators. Dan Ashe, director of the FWS, said that his department needed to take actions against the unethical practices of hunters and policy makers in Alaska. He goes on to say that the national parks are not a place to manage for the benefit of a few people. The purpose of recent predator hunting policies to target wolves and bears is to improve the stock of caribou for the hunters.
Removing wolves from the food chain will likely have large impacts on the environment. Wolves are known as a Keystone species. This means that their interactions in the environment are much more complex than just eating a few caribou. In several examples nationwide, including a Yellowstone reintroduction, wolf packs resulted in cleaner rivers. How does that happen? Wolves help to control the populations of grazers that eat plants on the river’s edge. The less grazers, the more plants there are to control erosion and clean the river. That’s just one example of how wolves are important to ecosystems. The disappearance of the Toklat pack may result in environmental degradation and a loss of biodiversity in the region they once inhabited.