Nushagak AC hears updates on wolf study, caribou management
Wildlife managers in Bristol Bay are trying to get a better sense of the area's wolf population and its impacts on moose.
Pat Walsh, a biologist at the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, talked about a wolf collaring study currently underway at the March Nushagak Advisory Committee meeting in Dillingham.
Walsh said he and his colleagues are collaring wolves to understand total predation on moose in the region. So far, he estimated that there are about eight to 10 packs on the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. Those packs can range in size from about two wolves, to as many as 12. The packs tagged so far are generally near Togiak, and Walsh said they were hoping to collar another pack near that town by mid-March.
The collars give biologists a better understanding of where the animals are, and where they roam. Eventually, it should also give them a sense of the total population size, which should provide a better sense of how many moose may be getting eaten by wolves.
So far, the researchers are seeing that wolves on the refuge have a huge range. Walsh said they've seem them travel as far as Bethel, Aniak and Lake Clark, while also showing up in western Bristol Bay.
In a related effort, biologists are also collecting hair samples from wolves to find out just what they eat. Each piece of hair has a chemical signature that ties it to the animal's diet.
"So if a wolf ate 100 percent moose, you could tell from its hair," Walsh explained.
So far, researchers have collected several hundred hair samples, and plan to collect more before the project wraps up. The results so far are just preliminary, but they show that like most Bristol Bay residents, wolves are pretty dependent on fish.
"They eat about 20 to 25 percent salmon, ... and beavers are an important food," Walsh said.
The work so far also has shown that wolves and bears probably help with moose management on the refuge, and don't appear to be a problem for the moose population, Walsh said.
Although it's not done yet, the study has already answered one question about wolves. Last year, some thought that local wolves might have lice. The work this year has shown that it isn't lice, Walsh said.
Caribou harvest largest so far
The AC also heard an update on the Nushagak Peninsula caribou herd at the meeting.
Walsh said that managers want to see a harvest of about 400 caribou this year, and so far more than 170 have been reported taken. The refuge was still expecting additional reports to come in, and the hunt doesn't close until March 31.
"This is the highest harvest we've ever had in our history of caribou management on the Nushagak Peninsula," Walsh said at the meeting.
That hunt is now just a federal hunt, and only open to residents of certain Bristol Bay communities. Last year, the state opened up a hunt on that herd to all Alaskans, and Bristol Bay Native Association Natural Resources Director Gayla Hoseth told the committee that there's also an effort underway to make it available to more Bristol Bay residents.
The Nushagak herd was transplanted using caribou from the stock that originated near Naknek and King Salmon, and Hoseth said there's an effort to make residents from that part of the region eligible to participate in the hunt when a larger number needs to be harvested. The federal Office of Subsistence Management is working on a proposal to allow that, which could be up for consideration by the federal subsistence board later this spring.
Molly Dischner can be reached at email@example.com.