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Patterns of Prey Selection by Wolves
in Denali National Park, Alaska

Study Area

This study was conducted from 1986 through early 1992 in Denali National Park and Preserve (Denali), Alaska (63° N, 151° W). Denali includes about 9,200 km² of "old" park (formerly Mount McKinley National Park), where wolves are legally protected, and an apron of 15,200 km² of new park and preserve where wolves can be taken under various restrictions. (During the study, four wolves were known to have been killed in this area). Denali is home to about 2,000 moose (Meier et al. 1991), 3,000-4,000 caribou, including those adjacent to the park that are within range of park wolf packs (Adams et al. 1989a, Shults and Adams 1990), and approximately 2,000 Dall sheep. Little information exists to evaluate trends in the sheep and moose populations during the study, although moose estimates for both 1986 and 1991 were about the same (Meier 1987, Meier et al. 1991). Caribou numbers increased an average of 8% annually through 1990, then declined by 18% in 1991 (Adams et al. 1989a, 1993).

The wolf population increased an average of 27%/year from about four to eight wolves /1,000 km² in late winter 1987 to 1990 (Meier et al. 1993). Denali wolves prey on all 3 ungulate species as well as on various minor prey species (Murie 1944,Mech et al. 1991a).

Snowfall during the study ranged from the second lowest on record in 1985-86 to one of the highest in 1990-91 (Table 1).

Table 1.  Cumulative snowfall (cm) at Headquarters, Denali National Park, Alaska1
1985-86 86
1986-87 104
1987-88 117
1988-89 244
1989-90 216
1990-91 391
1991-92 221
1  63-year mean is 190.5

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