The morning after the lynx appeared on the rock across the beaver pond, I awoke to the sight of a white wolf on the rock. It wasn’t an albino, nor was it completely white, as a close examination shows some streaks of light brown on its back. Still, there’s little doubt it’s a white wolf of the species now called the gray wolf, which used to be called the timber wolf. Wolves are very variable in size, colour and other characteristics and as a result, up to 24 sub-species have been recognized in North America.
The species scientific name is Canis lupus, and they are very common where I live. Too common, in my opinion, as there’s little doubt they are a major factor (not the only factor, and perhaps not even the most important factor, but nonetheless, a big factor) in the decline of moose over much of a large swath of central Canada and states like Minnesota. They also are a leading cause of mortality for many herds of woodland caribou that are in danger of disappearing.
But after being wiped out over much of the lower 48 and parts of southern Canada, the once much reviled timber wolf is now epitomized as a symbol of the wilderness and its presence a signal of a healthier ecosystem. In other words, a majority of the human population these days views the wolf much more than just favourably. And there are a lot more of them to love than there were 50 years ago.
I like wolves too, although that doesn’t mean I’m against managing their populations, even if that means allowing hunting or, dependent upon the circumstances, engaging in culls.
The white wolf was lucky in that it appeared on the rock the day before the wolf hunting season opened, and I haven’t seen it since.
I think the local wolf population is poised to collapse. There are few moose left in the area and after peaking at unbelievably high numbers around 2007, the white-tailed deer population has also collapsed. There are still deer around, but nowhere near the numbers there used to be. A few years ago it was not uncommon to see more than 20 deer on the 20 minute drive to the edge of town from our house – these days it’s a rare day to see even one. The deer decline didn’t immediately result in a similar wolf decline, but over the past year wolf sightings by everyone I know has been down. That’s the typical predator-prey lag all wildlife biologists are taught.
I suspect this winter will knock the wolf population down even further, as a wolf has to catch and eat a deer about every 20 days during the snowy season in order to survive. In other words, a pack of 7 (a medium-sized pack around here) needs to catch and kill about 50 deer over the course of a normal winter for all to survive. That’s just not going to happen.
The photos I took of the wolf aren’t as sharp as the ones of the lynx, mostly due to poorer lighting on the morning the wolf showed up. Still, when I examine the photos carefully, it looks like there are a number of scars on the face of the wolf. Lillian believes they were likely the result of an encounter with a porcupine. When you’re hungry, any food is better than no food.
I suspect the wolf was on the rock looking wistfully at the beaver house that is mere meters away. But the two beavers in our pond aren’t dummies and have not been venturing into the adjoining forest to gather their winter food supply. There seems to be enough speckled alder and balsam poplar at the ponds’ edge to keep them happy – and safe from wolves. Beavers are the preferred summer food of wolves and while beavers are common in some areas, their numbers are down too.
It’s a tough world out there. Definitely not akin to ice cream and lollipops.