BANFF – The Bow Valley wolf pack has produced several pups this year.
Parks Canada wildlife experts have confirmed there are at least six pups, and possibly as many as nine, though others say they have seven pups on several occasions.
“This is really cool,” said Dan Rafla, a Parks Canada human-wildlife conflict specialist for Banff National Park.
"We’ve usually seen at least six pups in the last few years, and whether those pups survive in time is obviously not always the reality.”
Confirmed sightings of the pups led Parks Canada to extend and modify a closure in an area near the Bow Valley Parkway to protect the young wolves from human presence and disturbance.
Anyone caught entering the closed area, which went into effect July 16 and runs until Aug. 31, may be charged, face a mandatory court appearance and fined up to $25,000 if found guilty.
Rafla said the temporary closure provides the pack with habitat security at this critical time.
“This allows the wolves to have some security, especially if they are using that area, because it’s in the heart of their range,” he said.
“We consider this somewhat of a high-risk wolf pack for conflict in that their home range overlaps with a lot of human use – roads, railway, townsite, campgrounds,” he added.
“One way to mitigate potential conflicts with wolves and get ahead of it is to do closures to give them space and secure habitat.”
Some of the biggest threats to the wolf pups include the Trans-Canada Highway and Canadian Pacific Railway, which run through the middle of this pack’s home range.
A yearling, which was one of two yearlings fitted with a tracking collar in early June, was struck and killed on the highway near Castle Mountain on June 24.
Many other wolves, including pups, have met this same fate on the railway line and highway over the years since wolves recolonized the Bow Valley in the mid-1980s.
The former alpha male 1901 was killed on the highway just west of Banff in spring 2020.
“There are other factors on the landscape for the Bow Valley pack, but that is a significant source of mortality,” Rafla said.
The current breeding female of the pack, known as 1701, is the only remaining member of the former Bow Valley pack.
Her mom, then the alpha female, and her sister were killed for public safety reasons in 2016 after they became accustomed to people, boldly entering busy campgrounds and day-use areas to get food.
Other members of the existing pack include a new alpha male, a grey-coloured female with a GPS collar, and a black yearling with a permanent leg injury.
Rafla said the pups are now mobile and have moved away from the den site where they have been guarded and protected since birth.
“Through this next stage, they are now moving to rendezvous sites, which are akin to a place to babysit if you put it in human terms,” he said.
“They stay in the general area, and they are usually left with an adult who will stand guard while the other adults go out onto the landscape seeking food.”
Rafla said not all the adult wolves are necessarily travelling together at the moment, noting the black-coloured yearling has been spotted on its own a few times.
“The priority is to look after the wolf pups, and while the pack is still together, it’s not necessarily travelling together,” he said.
Data from the female wolf fitted with a GPS shows she was in the valley bottom one morning and high in the alpine by that same afternoon seeking prey.
Rafla said many deer and elk have been moving out of the valley bottoms as the snow melts at higher elevations.
“Wolves can travel quite far and quite rapidly,” he said. “They are designed for endurance and movement.”
Parks Canada reminds residents and visitors to give wildlife like wolves and bears at least 100 metres of space.
People are also urged to properly store all garbage and food, whether they are at home, at a day-use area or campground – and never feed wildlife.
In addition, wolf sighting can be reported to Banff National Park dispatch at 403-762-1470.
“We like to get ahead of any concerning behaviour before it gets too bad and so a key part of that is calling into us and reporting,” Rafla said.
“Following these fairly simple measures consistently will help keep these animals co-existing on the landscape.”