Wolves have long been a lightning rod for controversy. They evoke passionate feelings in
many of us. Some people love them, a few fear them, others prefer that they be shot. On the
Arctic Refuge, however, these differences are seldom voiced. Why? The wolf is wild, beautiful,
and inspiring. So is the Refuge. The two belong together. People know it and expect it.
Cousin to the dog, the gray wolf is a highly social animal, preferring to live in packs. The
pack, dominated by a male/female pair, may include their pups of the year, wolves born the
previous year, and other adults.
Gray wolves may be shades of gray, brown, black, or white. Wolves of all these colors roam the Refuge. A total of approximately 25-30 wolves, in some five packs, live on the Refuge's north slope east of the Canning River. The wolves are found primarily in the mountains and foothills along major rivers.
The makeup of wolf packs on the Refuge's north slope varies. In summer, many wolves hunt
alone or in pairs. Some are "drifters." Others may switch packs or move to new areas, perhaps
following the caribou migration. In winter the packs stay together more to hunt.
Gray wolves mate in late February and March. The pairs then move to maternity dens near
rivers in the foothills and mountains. About four to seven pups are born in late May or early
June. The pups are weaned during the summer, and the dens are abandoned in July or August.
By early winter, the pups can travel and hunt with the adult wolves.
Although to date, no dens have been found on the Refuge coastal plain, wolves make
frequent trips there from May to July when the Porcupine caribou herd is present. After the
caribou leave the coastal plain, the wolves stay in the mountains and foothills hunting caribou,
along with Dall sheep and moose. Wolves, however, are opportunistic feeders. They will catch
small rodents, birds, and ground squirrels if they can.
Natural relationships between predator and prey still prevail on the Arctic Refuge. Here the
wolf's connection to the caribou and the land continues as it has for centuries. Untamed and free,
the wolf is a symbol for the Refuge - a truly remarkable place.
September 12, 2008