The Voyageurs Wolf Project: Ecology of Summer Wolves in Northern Minnesota

Some of the first howls from a pup of the Wiyapka Lake Pack in early May 2019. The pack had a total of 5 pups in 2019, and the pups were about 1 month old when this video was recorded. www.voyageurswolfproject.org

The Voyageurs Wolf Project is focused on understanding the summer ecology of wolves in and around Voyageurs National Park in the iconic Northwoods border region of Minnesota, USA.

Video Footage from Voyageurs Wolf Project

These wolves from the Shoepack Lake Pack are the most elusive and remote wolves in Voyageurs National Park and the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem. This pack occupies the eastern half of the Kabetogama Peninsula, which is an incredibly wild place in the interior of Voyageurs National Park. This video footage is from this past November and December.

We have been in the field all week doing trail camera work (switching SD cards, putting in fresh batteries, putting out more cameras, etc) and got lots of neat footage from this past fall! Will be sharing more soon!

About Voyageurs Wolf Project

The Voyageurs Wolf Project, which is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota and Voyageurs National Park, was started to address one of the biggest knowledge gaps in wolf ecology—what do wolves do during the summer? Our goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the summer ecology of wolves in the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem in northern Minnesota. Specifically, we want to understand the predation behavior and reproductive ecology (e.g., number of pups born, where wolves have dens, etc) of wolves during the summer.

Photograph credit Voyageurs Wolf Project

In March 2019, we set up three remote cameras at a den that had been used by the Sheep Ranch Pack from 2016–2018. The pack did not use this den in 2019 but wolves and a variety of other elusive animals visited this area. This video is a compilation of the wildlife activity that was recorded.

To learn more about The Voyageurs Wolf Project got to www.voyageurswolfproject.org

Photograph credit Voyageurs Wolf Project

Wolves support each other in times of danger: Triangle saves his sister

The following account is from Kira Cassidy a research associate with the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

We called him Triangle, for the shape of the white blaze on his chest. Born into the last litter of the Druid Peak pack—he was smaller than his brothers, and even one of his sisters. One cold morning in 2009 he and an older sister encountered three members of the Hoodoo pack, deep in Druid territory. His sister was immediately attacked but instead of running to safety, Triangle jumped into the melee twice, bit one of the Hoodoo wolves and distracted the opposition long enough for his sister to escape. As he turned to run he was bitten hard on a back leg but outdistanced the attackers, finally out of harm’s way.

Why would he take such a risk? In Yellowstone 68% of natural death occurs when two packs fight. And of the 34 attacks we witnessed and analyzed, in six cases a wolf attempted to rescue their pack mate. So why didn’t Triangle run for safety, saving himself? It may be because the pack, the family, is a crucial part of a wolf’s life.

Yellowstone wolf photo credit NPS

Wolves are rarely alone. They are born in a litter and with pack mates while they hunt, travel, and sleep. If a wolf does leave its pack it is usually to start their own, have their own offspring, and once again, be surrounded by family. It is beneficial to live in a big family, too. It helps every member of the group survive longer, recover from injuries and infections more easily, raise more pups, and hunt larger prey. Wolf packs are also territorial and aggressive with their neighbors; and big packs—especially ones with adult males for fighting power and older adults for their knowledge—are more likely to defeat their opponents.

Risking death or injury to aid a pack mate during an attack may have important evolutionary benefits. This behavior fits with the kin selection theory because helping close relatives promotes your shared genes. Or the pack mate you saved may reciprocate and help you in the future.

As scientists and naturalists fascinated by this behavior, maybe we shouldn’t be that shocked. The news is inundated by stories of a dog saving its family from a burning building, or a person saving a neighbor stuck in a raging river or even a wild animal entangled in a fence. Instead of seeing these acts of selflessness as a human anomaly, maybe we should start viewing them as the bridge that connects us to other animals. Animals like the gray wolf who see family as the most important part of life. Source Yellowstone Forever

Here’s more from Yellowstone Forever

Listen to the Lamar Valley wolves howling in memory of Spitfire Alpha wolf 926..

Action Alert: Contact Wisconsin’s DNR Bear Advisory Committee Concerning the Baiting of Black Bears…

…The Following research concerning the baiting of black bears: Consumption of intentional food subsidies by a hunted carnivore revealed some very startling results.  Researchers  found that; humans are influencing the ecosystem not only through top-down forces via hunting, but also through bottom-up forces by subsidizing the food base. 

In July 2017 I wrote about the new Bear baiting research. This research on bear baiting in Wisconsin is even more relevant now because of the recent news: Officials in Florida have arrested nine people in connection with the “illegal baiting, taking and molestation” of black bears following a yearlong investigation into the crimes. (Source) One of the nine arrested had been hunting bear in Wisconsin, such cruelty towards wildlife knows no bounds! But now is the time to demand justice for our wildlife!

Perhaps changes will happen now with a new Governor and new DNR Secretary. That’s why I’m recommending that activists contact the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources  Bear Advisory Committee  because the following research concerning the baiting of black bears: Consumption of intentional food subsidies by a hunted carnivore revealed some very startling results. 

The baiting of black bear starts in April and goes through to the end of September. That’s roughly six months of intentional food subsidies being fed to a carnivore. Not to mention, that’s a lot of disruption to the black bear’s natural habitat. Over four million gallons of bait is dropped in the woods for the purpose of hunting black bear. Bears are fed donuts, gummy bears, and cereal. Donuts have a high volume of calories, some doughnuts contain partially hydrogenated oils, which aren’t healthy for the heart, and most doughnuts are made with white flour. Glazed doughnuts contain 210 mg of sodium. 

Black bears are omnivores that eat food of both plant and animal origin.

It’s no surprise that baiting black bear is a cause for alarm. It’s been controversial for a number of years. But what’s interesting now is the research points out a number of problems resulting from the baiting of black bear. 

Female consumption of high caloric food subsidies can increase fecundity (the ability to produce an abundance of offspring or new growth; fertility), and can train cubs to seek bear baits. According to the research this can increase a population above its ecological carrying capacity. 

Black bears are omnivorous and spend spring, summer & autumn foraging for Native Forage, included known bear foods; berries, acorns, grasses and sedges, other plants, and white-tailed deer.  

Today, black bears in Wisconsin are being conditioned to search out human foods placed at bear baiting stations. This is influencing the black bears natural habitat. Researchers  found that; humans are influencing the ecosystem not only through top-down forces via hunting, but also through bottom-up forces by subsidizing the food base. 

The Researchers found that if food subsidies (bait) were removed, bear-human conflicts may increase and bears may no longer be able to subsist on natural foods. 

During its first century, Yellowstone National Park was known as the place to see and interact with bears. Hundreds of people gathered nightly to watch bears feed on garbage in the park’s dumps. Enthusiastic visitors fed bears along the roads and behaved recklessly to take photographs.

High availability of energy-rich food can also alter denning chronology, shortening the denning period. 

The “heart” in conservation is missing when a species is managed for the sole purpose of harvesting it. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates; most recent data indicates the bear population is currently estimated to be just under 29,000 bears. DNR manages bear population size through regulated hunting. In the end, black bears are managed for economic gain through hunting. 

Individual species should and must be managed for the good of the species and the habitat it depends.  “Do not feed the wildlife.”  Let’s bring back the heart of conservation.

Can we learn from our past mistakes? Don’t feed the bears! Watch the following video.

Researcher found that nearly one-third of the diet of the wolves studied consisted of dump sites on nearby farms…

Dumping cattle carcasses is illegal in Michigan and Wisconsin. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that leaving carcasses in the woods, especially in wolf range, will attract wild carnivores. It’s just plain and simple common sense practice to dispose of livestock properly. Properly disposing of dead livestock also helps prevent the spread of diseases.

It can also be a lesson well learned as in the following story told to me a couple years ago by a woman living in wolf range. I was talking with a woman that lives in the country with a resident wolf pack nearby. I asked her if she had seen any signs of them lately, and she said she hasn’t seen them, but knows they are nearby. Then, she told me her tragic story. They had two dogs, one young and one older, and recently lost the older dog because of a mistake they made. She told me that they dumped their food scraps in a pit in the woods down behind their house; That one day she came out to the garage to find the young dog cowering in the corner. Then, she heard the older dog let out a screech from the pit out behind the house. She ran to the pit, looked down into the woods, and there was no sight of the older dog. They looked but never found a trace of him. They did find wolf tracks though. I asked them if they reported the incident to the DNR and she said no because it was their fault. She said they stopped dumping food scraps in the pit in the woods behind their house. They understand their mistake and tragically too late for their older dog. They live in wolf range and are also farmers. They also respect wolves and understand their place in the ecosystem.

Recently…Research In Upper Peninsula Finds Dumped Livestock Is Changing Predatory Behavior

A study led by Tyler Petroelje, a wildlife researcher and doctoral candidate at Mississippi State University, tracked the feeding behaviors of eight wolves from two packs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This research was part of a broader predator-prey study that investigated a variety of factors that affect deer populations in the region. As reported by Great Lakes Echo, the study suggested that dumping cow carcasses alters wolf behavior.

In the North Woods of Wisconsin and Michigan, a wolf’s natural diet typically consists of deer and beaver, Petroelje explained. But he found that nearly one-third of the diet of the wolves studied consisted of cattle carcasses from dump sites on nearby farm

The following is recommendations for disposing of dead livestock from Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture

Livestock Carcass Disposal

Disposing of livestock carcasses is an important part of animal agriculture. Wisconsin law says that carcasses must be properly disposed of within 24 hours from April through November and within 48 hours from December through March.

Rendering, burial, burning and landfilling have been the typical means of disposal, but these are becoming less and less practical. Burial and burning create biosecurity hazards and threats to water and air quality. Rendering remains the best choice to protect the environment, public health, and animal health, but it is becoming more expensive and less available.

Cattle carcasses in particular are becoming more difficult and expensive to send to rendering because of federal regulations. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates animal feed and pet foods, now prohibits using parts from cattle 30 months or older in any food for animals unless the spinal cord and brain are first removed.

We recommend composting carcasses to overcome these problems. Remember that composting is an active process.

Putting a carcass in the woods or on the back 40 to rot and/or be eaten by scavengers is not composting and:

• Risks disease transmission to your livestock and your neighbors’, and to wildlife.

• May contaminate water sources – including your well and your neighbors’ wells.

• Invites vermin and pests, including coyotes, that may transmit disease and prey on your livestock.

• Alienates neighbors and generally casts farmers in a bad light.

• Is illegal.

Sarcoptic mange, present in one of 10 known packs in Yellowstone as of 2015

Source: Effects of Sarcoptic Mange on Gray Wolves in Yellowstone National Park. And Yellowstone Wolf: Project Citizen Science

Recent research

The dynamics and impacts of sarcoptic mange on Yellowstone’s wolves

Research contact: Emily Almberg
Project background
Sarcoptes scabiei, the mite that causes the skin infection known as sarcoptic mange, was introduced to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as a biological control agent aimed at eliminating wolves during the predator control era in the early 1900s.
Although the mite is globally distributed and was at least present throughout parts of Canada in the early 1900s, to date, we have no evidence that it was locally present prior to its release by state veterinarians.

Following the eradication of wolves from the ecosystem in the 1930s, mange is thought to have persisted within the regional furbearer populations (coyotes, foxes, etc.)  To read more from Yellowstone Wolf: Project Citizen Science click HERE.   To read more from: Effects of Sarcoptic Mange on Gray Wolves in Yellowstone National Park click HERE

 

Figure 1.

 
 

Figure 2.

 
Wolves were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996 to Yellowstone National Park, and mange began appearing in wolves outside of Yellowstone in 2002. By the early winter of 2007, mange had invaded the park’s wolves (Fig 1 & 2).


Source  and Study Shows Cold and Windy Nights Physically Drain Mangy Wolves Released: 3/29/2016 12:53:05 PM