Bow Valley-area wolf dies in Montana on trek to find new territory and mate

Parks Canada staff tracked M2001, a two-year-old wolf, as he left Banff National Park to find new territory.

He made his way into Spray Valley Provincial Park, then he travelled to Fernie, British Columbia, before finally venturing further south and crossing the U.S.-Canada border into Montana.

Then, on March 8th, wolf M2001 was reported dead. A landowner shot the wolf, legally, according to a statement from Parks Canada. 

“It is legal in Montana for landowners to remove wolves that potentially threaten livestock, domestic dogs, or human safety,” Parks spokesman Justin Brisbane wrote in an email statement. “Parks Canada staff had tracked the young collared wolf for just over a year.” 

A map of wolf M2001 shows he travelled hundreds of kilometres from home before he was killed in Montana near the U.S. and Canada border. (Submitted by Parks Canada)

It’s common for wolves to travel hundreds of kilometres when they are seeking a new place to live and reproduce, said Marco Musiani, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Calgary. Not all wolves break from their natal pack, but some leave in order to breed outside of their gene pool.

“When they do disperse, they pick a direction and they’re very consistent,” Musiani said. “So they can go a very long distance, almost in a straight line.” 

Musiani said the route M2001 took is an established wildlife corridor.

‘There’s a good chance they are going to get into trouble’

Young wolves have a high mortality rate, said Kevin Van Tighem, former Banff superintendent and biologist, now conservationist and author. Especially, he added, when they’ve left their homes and are fending for themselves in a new setting.

“It’s like a 16-year-old moving to a different city,” Van Tighem said. “There’s a good chance they’re going to get into trouble just because they’re lost and they haven’t established a way of living in that community yet.”

In a pack setting when a wolf dies Van Tighem said it can have repercussions — cutting deep into the social fabric of the wolves. Researchers notice increased behaviour issues, increases in predation problems, and more. 

But, Van Tighem said in this case the wolf’s passing should not hurt the pack he left behind. 

Banff wolf packs bouncing back

Researchers and conservationists have been watching the wolf population in Banff for years. Back in 2016, the Bow Valley wolf pack collapsed.

The adults had become too accustomed to park visitors, and their food — after displaying aggressive behaviour, officials had to euthanize the pack’s alpha female and another adult. That year, several pups died too.

But things are turning around. 

“They seem to be doing OK,” Van Tighem said. “Certainly if they’re producing enough offspring that some wolves are dispersing from the pack, well, it sounds like the system is more or less working.” 

‘Open season’

Van Tighem said there are dangers inside and outside of parks for wolves. In Banff, they can become prey to vehicle traffic, trains — campers, tourists and development also plays a role.

Outside of parks, wolves face other dangers. In Alberta, for instance, Van Tighem said regulations allow wolves to be killed, sometimes for bounties. 

“While that wolf died in Montana, its odds of survival were probably lower if it had dispersed into Alberta,” Van Tighem said.  “One reason that these packs have such a difficult time sustaining themselves is because every time they step across the border, it’s just open season.” 

Wolves can be a polarizing issue, Musiani added. Some believe wolves should be protected, while others believe they have the right to cull wolves who could terrorize their livestock. 

“There are some people that view what happened to this wolf as a natural event and there are some other people that will view this as a problem,” Musiani said. 

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