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Local group on the lookout to tag, track area wolves

Algoma Highlands Conservancy says wolves are important to balance of nature; not much known about wolves in our area
20210901-Wolf, Stokely Creek photo supplied
A wolf is seen in the Stokely Creek area in this trail camera photo, part of a three year wolf trapping and study project being performed by the Algoma Highlands Conservancy. Photo supplied

For the past 10 days, a group of retired local scientists has been trying to trap wolves in Algoma Highlands Conservancy lands.

But wolves in the area have not been a nuisance or threat to humans.

The purpose of the trapping exercise is to tag wolves and track them with GPS collars, gathering more information on the creatures over the course of a new three-year wildlife study launched in May, said Kees Van Frankenhuyzen, Algoma Highlands Conservancy president, speaking to SooToday.

The group’s study includes four areas - Prince Township Wind Farm, the Stokely Creek region, Sylvan Valley and another north of Iron Bridge.

“They’re very important predators in the whole ecosystem. In the summer they eat a lot of beavers. If you don’t have wolves, the beavers will go haywire and dam up every creek and swamp and the roads get flooded. But if you have a healthy population of both, it keeps that beaver population in check,” said Van Frankenhuyzen, a retired Natural Resources Canada research scientist.

If the Conservancy group can find out where the wolves are building their dens, those areas can be protected.

“We can make sure they’re not being logged, and say ‘don’t log too close to the den.’ We don’t want to unknowingly destroy or negatively influence a habitat that’s important for the wolves survival,” Van Frankenhuyzen said.

“We’ve just installed a network of 72 trail cameras and we’ll be monitoring wildlife over the next three years on those trail cams, and as part of that study, we hope to trap a couple of wolves and equip them with a GPS collar. We hope to trap three wolves per area (Prince Township Wind Farm, the Stokely Creek region, Sylvan Valley and north of Iron Bridge).”  

“By having the GPS collars on, we can follow the wolves movements on a computer. We know right now that each of those areas has one or two wolf packs. We don’t know how big each pack is, we don’t know how they interact with the wildlife, what they’re preying on, so it’s basically a study to find out more information about wildlife and the collaring study is a component to better understand how wolves utilize those study areas, where they are, where they move, where they den,” Van Frankenhuyzen said.    

“All that information you can find out if you put a GPS collar on because you can follow them in real time.” 

“We know very little about the wolves in this area.”

“There have been a lot of wolf studies done at Algonquin Park and in the far north. The area we’re in, we really know nothing about the wolves. We don’t know how many there are, we don’t know the pack sizes or what they feed on.”

Wolves are often misunderstood creatures, Van Frankenhuyzen said.

“People are scared of wolves, they think they’re dangerous. But our experience so far is that wolves mix very, very well with people. They use the same trails that people hike on and bike on. I spent 35 years hiking the trails at Stokely Creek and I never encountered a wolf. Then we put the trail cameras up, and guess what, the hikers are there in the day, the wolves are out at night. There seems to be a happy coexistence between people and wolves and that's a story that‘s not being told because we don’t have the documentation of that.”

“As a Conservancy we’re working on highlighting that and say ‘people and wolves can coexist,’ but we need the hard data to support that,” Van Frankenhuyzen said.

The traps being used have had their harmful metal teeth removed and replaced with rubber.

“If a bear steps on it, it’s able to just push the trap off with its paw. A big wolf may be able to get out of the trap. Most wolves will get stuck, but they won’t get hurt.”

There are 20 traps set up along the study route.

So far, the Conservancy group has been unsuccessful in trapping any wolves, Van Frankenhuyzen told us, the group having started its trapping mission last Monday (Aug. 23) and intending to continue until this Sunday.

“The day before we set the traps, we had at least four wolves roaming the trails, but they didn't stick around. Earlier this week we started seeing the wolves again. With the trail cameras, we saw three wolves who came right up to a trap and sniffed and just didn’t step on the right place, but we’re close. We know they’re here.”

“There’s no guarantee for success. Wolves are smart. You look at the video and you think ‘why didn’t it get trapped, it was right there.’”

“If they do get caught, they get tranquilized, we take blood samples for DNA analysis, hair samples and then equip them with a GPS collar, give them an antidote so they can recover, then they go off on their way. It’s a technique that’s been used all over the world. It’s been tried and tested on wolves for many years.”

Apart from himself, Van Frankenhuyzen’s Conservancy team includes a fellow retired Natural Resources Canada research scientist and an emergency planner, the three men assisted by a Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry technician and a Natural Resources Canada biologist to make sure any trapped wolves will be safe and not left in physical distress. 

The senior levels of government have given their okay to the Conservancy’s trapping mission, Van Frankenhuyzen said.

The Conservancy team received $25,000 in funding for its project from Hydro One, another $10,000 from Prince Wind Farm ownership.

Power companies, Van Frankenhuyzen said, are interested in finding out how power lines affect the abundance and distribution of wolves and other animals.

The money received goes toward the cost of the GPS collars, trail cameras, monthly satellite fees involved in tracking the wolves and wages for a student hired to help the team this summer.

Once the Conservancy team traps its share of wolves, Van Frankenhuyzen said all information gathered will be compiled and published in a scientific paper.

“We need to get the validation from the scientific community that this study was done in the correct way and the conclusions are valid. That's the goal. Then any agency that has any issues with wolves can use that information to make better, informed decisions.”

“That’s the role we’re playing. We noticed a big gap in scientific literature in terms of wolf studies being done in this area.”

Copies of that published information, when completed, will be forwarded to the upper levels of government, Van Frankenhuyzen said.