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Our ecosystem is built with many moving pieces and there is never just one factor affecting a species or putting a population at risk, and this is true of the Little Smoky caribou range. Maintaining caribou population and habitat is a priority. There are several things being done to address this including restoring and managing lands and managing the populations of predator species in the area, this includes wolves. Let’s talk numbers When it comes to wolves (one of Alberta’s better known predators) the population has cycled between scarcity and abundance. The current estimated wolf population in Alberta is 7,000 wolves, an increase from 4,000 wolves in the early 1990s. How do wolves pose a threat to caribou? Wolf numbers are related to number of deer species in an area– this means the more food available for wolves, the better they survive and reproduce. Historically, there was usually some distance between caribou and moose because they used different habitats – caribou in the muskeg and moose in the uplands. At the same time there were few deer in those areas, so the total wolf population was lower than it is now. Due to loss and fragmentation of habitat, increasing numbers of deer and moose are sharing caribou habitat. While government continues working to minimize these impacts, the increased numbers of other animals in caribou habitat means an increase in predators – namely wolves. Interactions with wolves and environment In some habitats, wolves can threaten the populations of other predators, such as cougars, and can limit their numbers by competing for prey or through direct contact resulting in cougar deaths. Wolves will also kill coyotes when they have the opportunity, and in some areas have been known to reduce coyote numbers. While there are some deadly consequences when dealing with wolves they also contribute to their environment, as was the case when wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park. When does the government manage wolf populations? While localized, lethal removal of individual wolves is done when wolves attack livestock, the only time entire populations would be managed is when wolf predation could cause the extinction of an identifiable group of a certain species, such as the Little Smoky caribou herd. Wolf control is not used to increase game populations. How are wolf populations controlled? The only place a wolf control program is happening right now is in the Little Smoky caribou herd range in North Central Alberta. The main methods of control are aerial shooting, trapping, and toxicants, which are only used in winter months when bears are hibernating so the bears will not be harmed. Toxicant bait stations are usually placed along known wolf travel routes to increase the probability that wolves will find the bait, and they are also buried in the snow to decrease the chances of other species finding them. Though occasionally coyotes and ravens will sometimes take the baits, when used in this way toxicants generally do not impact other animals in the area. While wolf population management is one of the tools considered to help protect caribou herds in Alberta, it’s not something that’s done lightly. Biologists and other scientists carefully study animal populations and always explore every available option to ensure the sustainability of Alberta’s wildlife before population control measures are implemented.