Last week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided to put the planned aerial shooting of wild wolves on hold for at least one year. It had been approved by the Alaska Board of Game in January 2012. Administrators at the Department of Fish and Game found their plan to be ill-conceived, and they are now trying to collect more scientific information about the wolf population.
The original plan was based on the fact there has been a decline in the Kenai moose population. Wolves take a number of moose each year, so the Board of Game targeted the predators for reduction. However, the impact on moose by wolves may have been misunderstood, and there are other factors contributing to the moose problem. Biologists said there hasn’t been enough information gathered yet to determine what should be done to address the situation.
One factor has been the decline in willow trees, which are a preferred food source for moose. There are about 40 species of willow in Alaska, and a moose can eat nearly the whole shrub. Willow contain more protein than grasses during the fall, and moose digest about 30 to 40 pounds of plants every day. The higher protein content in the willow is better for their health. (Willow bark also can reduce inflammation, and contains an antioxidant which boosts the immune system.)
The loss of willow has occurred due to development of wild land for human residences, allowing fires to burn instead of suppressing them, and spruce naturally replacing them. Of course, another factor in the moose decline (but to a lesser extent) is hunting. Part of the reason for the plan to kill wolves was to allow more moose to live, but mainly so they can be shot by hunters.
Shooting wolves is very unlikely to be the solution to the Kenai moose decline. Restoring the willow density and decreasing that of the spruce forests appears to be a much better plan. The Forest Service has said that willow is a good candidate for planting in areas to restore the balance of plant life: “Willow species are the most important colonizers of disturbed sites in the Alaskan taiga because of their ability to produce root and root crown shoots, which provide for quick recovery [13,37].”
Image Credit: Public Domain, Doug Smith / Wiki Commons