Healthy wolves and low caribou counts; state predation control program continues in Bristol Bay

Oct 9, 2020

The Mulchatna caribou population has dropped to about half what biologists expected in the recent years. The predation control program is aimed at allowing the herd to grow. 

Credit Steve Dubois/ADF&G

Bristol Bay’s wolves are doing well, and that means another liberal hunting season. 

Wolf season began August 10 and ends April 30 for Game Management Unit 17. In unit 9, the season ends on June 30. Up to 10 wolves can be hunted per day, and there is no daily bag limit for wolves caught in traps.

Todd Rinaldi, the Region 4 management coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said Bristol Bay's wolf population is healthy, and a liberalized hunt is part of the department’s ongoing predator control program in units 9B, 17B, 17C and 19A and 19B.

“Because the Mulchatna caribou are under intensive management, we do have a wolf predation program in unit 17 to reduce the number of wolves in the area, but specifically the number of wolves in the Mulchatna counting grounds,” Rinaldi said.

The Mulchatna caribou population has dropped to about half what biologists expected in the recent years, and the predation control program is aimed at allowing the herd to grow. 

Historically, wolf hunting seasons have been liberal in western Alaska. Fish and Game aims to continue hunting and trapping opportunities, which allow people to harvest wolves for their fur. 

Rinaldi said another reason why wolf hunting limits are so high is because of the changing number of wolf hunters.

“Participation can be mixed,” said Rinaldi. “Oftentimes, effort to hunt and to trap wolves on the ground and by air through SDA — which is not actually hunting and that's the same day airborne which is part of our predation control program — weather can be limiting so harvest is variable from year to year.”

Rinaldi said wolf populations and densities can be difficult to survey in Bristol Bay — the last one was conducted in 2013. The department now estimates populations via collar information, research, and historic data.

“Wolves are opportunistic. They’re wide ranging carnivores and they are moving though habitats where they expect to find prey,” Rinalid said. “Because Mulchatna has aggregation of prey density, such as moose, along river systems and obviously caribou are aggregating in large groups, those wolves are really dependent on seeking out those habitats. The density of wolves we expect them to be higher in those areas and that would be affected seasonally.”

For more information about wolf hunting in Bristol Bay, or to participate in the predator control program, contact the local FIsh and Game offices in Dillingham and King Salmon. 

Contact the author at brian@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.