This entry details a portion of my thesis work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and is intended to communicate the findings of that work in a four part series. You are reading part four examining the likelihood of competition between wolves and humans. In order to make the article concise, you may review the general background of this work in part one. I have truncated the background and methods of this work and focused on a portion of the results.
In parts two and three of this series I have been examining where humans in the Yukon Flats, Alaska are traveling to harvest moose and where/how wolves are traveling to harvest moose. A key finding of human access was that humans are mostly operating within 1500 meters of navigable water. During our wolf study I found that travel was based around river corridors. Based on this, I will conclude this series of articles by examining the “Beaver Creek” pack which overlapped strongly with navigable water.
I wanted to begin to understand the likelihood of competition around navigable waters for moose between humans and wolves. Remember, moose exist at extremely low densities and humans and wolves depend on them as a food resource. Therefore, I believe understanding competition is particularly important. To understand the likelihood of competition, I applied my model of human access and overlapped it with wolf locations. I found that 75% of wolf use locations fell within the human access model.
My analysis does not contain temporally overlapping data. Wolf habitat selection may differ in September and October when humans are hunting moose. Wolves could also rely on other prey species other than moose during that period. Also, predation in the Yukon Flats extends beyond wolves. Bears take up to 85% of moose calves each spring. As such, my conclusion is just the beginning research for future biologists in the region. A complete analysis would encompass all predation on moose, be spatially and temporally overlapping, and would evaluate how many moose which are predated could be taken by humans. I hope you have enjoyed this four part series! A full copy of the thesis can be obtained by contacting me. Feel free to do so!
I was excited to head far into the Alaskan bush by river to help a friend open his cabin for the season. Almost a week of packing led up to the Wednesday we were supposed to leave. However, when the middle day of the week arrived, high water reports from Fort Yukon and the Upper Porcupine River were ominous. Record snowfall in Old Crow, Yukon Territory, had swollen the giant river systems. They were far above travel-able levels, and over-flooded banks were pulling dangerous amounts of debris, ‘drift’, into the river. Our final destination was 220 river miles through the high water and drift of the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers, and the experienced judgement of Joe dictated that we would wait a few days before heading up to his cabin. Four days later the river had dropped to acceptable levels. It was go-time : the river was saying so!
Before I get into some of the stories of the trip. Come along on the trip with me by watching this video:
The notion of taking a boat far into the Alaskan bush is exciting! A long-time resident of the bush, Joe was anxious to open his cabin, and assess his estate because bears, humans, or weather can all impact an unoccupied cabin. The boat-trip up river started in Circle, Alaska on a cloudy day. As we headed downstream in the Yukon River, we quickly entered the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. This expansive refuge is critical, critical habitat for breeding waterfowl and birds. In fact, the refuge hosts 150 species of breeding birds from 11 countries, 8 Canadian provinces and 43 of the 50 states. That’s remarkable diversity!
The Yukon Flats is aptly named. As we cruised along in the boat, the shores were a steady patchwork of riparian habitat consisting of willows, birch, and spruces. There was no perceptable climb in elevation. The fast, high water of the river kept progress slow, and Captain Joe was constantly vigilant for pieces of drift. Three foot-long sticks and entire trees were coming down the river at the rate of several or more pieces per minute. Hitting a small branch may result in a dented prop, but a large stump could have ended the trip. By the time we reached Curtis Slough to stop for the night, the intense driving had drained Joe (and rightfully so!). Overall we made it about 135 river miles from Circle.
We pulled into a small log cabin along the banks Curtis Slough, hoping to spend the night. The traditional landing was underwater, but I jumped ashore with the bow rope and headed to tie off to a nearby tree. I glanced at the cabin, and immediately saw that the plywood door had been torn in half; peeled back like the lid of a sardine can. “Hey Joe”, I stated, “A bear broke into the cabin, by tearing the door off”. “Ok, does it look fresh?”, he questioned. I assessed the raw wood in the torn door from 25 feet away and responded, “yup, sure does!”. By that time Joe had climbed up with Delta, our dog companion. Delta moved towards the cabin and sniffed the door; her demeanor immediately told us that it was a very fresh break in, and then I heard a can rattle from inside. The bear was still in the cabin! In two flicks of a lamb’s tail we were in the boat and headed across river to camp on a more desirable (bear free) gravel bar. Joe, knowing the owner of the cabin, made a satellite phone call to inform them of the situation. Remarkably, this bear encounter was the only one of the whole trip!
The next morning we continued up the Porcupine River, and moved out of the Yukon Flats and into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Arctic NWR is the largest piece of land in the refuge system, and home of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. No longer in the flats, we saw a mountain on the horizon! More significantly, that mountain was the beginning of the rocky ramparts which would line the river for the rest of our trip. The tall and colorful ramparts and bluffs of the Porcupine Rive were a welcome contrast to the Yukon Flats! As we moved through the landscape, the smile of enjoyment could not have been erased from my face by the spray of a skunk. The area was absolutely stunning; on a small scale, I was reminded of the Grand Canyon. Red, orange, and black rock walls rose high above the water. The bluffs held countless caves and spires shaped by wind, ice, and snow. The refuge of the high cliffs provided important nesting habitat. As we passed we noticed nests of golden eagles, ravens, and a peregrine falcon protected on all sides by the vertical rock faces.
Two hundred and twenty-two miles upriver we passed the final bluff across from Joe’s cabin. The boat swung around towards the opposite bank and soon I tied it off onshore. Already I felt connected to this beautiful region, and was excited to spend the next five days exploring it. The next chapter of cabin life to come soon!
Oh, and as one last, unrelated note the blog turned two on May 28th. Thank-you ALL for your continuing support. Your feedback, comments, and enjoyment of the material here is much appreciated!
Summer is waning here in Alaska. In Fairbanks, tundra breeding birds are being seen in fields and overhead. Particularly the Sandhill Cranes make themselves known with their raucous and odd cries. Kassie and I wanted to experience the tundra and birds before they leave for the year.
In the recent style of my blogs, I’ll open up with the video of the trip. It captures the beauty of constant scenery, the curiosity of a fox, the detail of small birds, and the disparity of millions of mosquitoes. If you have questions about the ID of anything in the video keep reading, they’ll be discussed further below!
To get to the tundra we head north on the Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway was completed in 1974 to service the Alaska Pipeline. The road traverses the Brooks Range via Atigun Pass at about 5000 feet – a large climb from about 400 feet in the flats of Fairbanks! It is the only complete corridor across the interior and is also called the ‘haul road’ due to the high semi-truck traffic hauling goods and supplies. On television it was made famous by the reality show Ice Road Truckers – which I experienced in a sense first hand last winter
On the topic of mosquitoes, I might as well put to rest any thoughts you have of “I’ve seen mosquitoes because I have lived in Maine or Minnesota”. I thought I was prepared for the bugs based on my living in those areas. Nothing could have prepared me for the swarms of bugs. They are tolerable in a breeze, but nearly impossible to deal with when the breeze disappears. Any knee high bush in the tundra contained hundreds of the small buzzards which well up in the eddies of the wind created by your body. The lee of your body allows mosquitoes and black flies to fly into your eyes, nose, ears and mouth. They are vicious and aim for your hairline, temples and hands.
North of the Brooks Range we happened across this Red Fox. Incredibly, it gave little notice to the two gaping humans in the truck and went about his business of marking his territory and hunting. The Red Fox and Arctic Fox overlap in range north of the Brooks Range. If they encounter each other the larger and stronger Red Fox will chase off or kill the Arctic Fox. Fox are able to hunt even in the snow and many film clips show them diving for prey (e.g. BBC’s “Life”). It’s possible that Red Fox can align themselves to the magnetic field before the pounce, and that it enables them to successfully hunt prey. I’m just the messenger on this one – I have no idea how that works!
Red Fox Dalton Highway
Four species of loons occur just north of the Brooks Range. They are the Pacific, Red-Throated, Arctic, and Yellow-billed Loons. These loons raise their chicks in the many pot-holes of the tundra before migrating to Russia, or further south on the coast. We were fortunate enough to see two of these species! The Pacific Loon swam towards us in a small pond along the Dalton. It called in a croaking voice – it seems to have a much different voice than the Common Loons we are used to. The Red-throated loon was much more nervous as it was protecting a chick.
As we drove south of Atigun Pass watching the climaxing sunset, Kassie scared me by suddenly exclaiming, “STOP! MOON!”. I looked up, and in the same motion pulled my vehicle to the shoulder of the road and dropped my jaw. The large super-moon which is bigger, brighter and ‘better’ than the ordinary moon because it is closer to the earth, emerged over the mountains. It was framed by the last pieces of the sunset and perched in the valley of the peaks. I declared an emergency photographic opportunity and set up my camera, snapping a few stills before timelapsing its quickly moving path. What an incredible experience!
Of course, there are lots of things to see along the Dalton Highway. The pictures below help capture the surrounding beauty and wildlife. I’ve included information in their captions, thanks for reading!
Spring is in the air! In Fairbanks the trees are leafing out and the days are long and warm. Even now there are only several hours each day that are dark. 150 miles north of here, Fort Yukon is just starting to wake up for the season. I got to spend some time up there (it was much different than the last time I was here) and I made it a point find some of the things which represent spring. All around birds, plants, and humans are celebrating the season.
As an avid birder I am interested in the new migrants which arrive in the spring. The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge was set up to harbor waterfowl; they flock there by the 10’s of thousands. The small ponds dotting the landscape are ideal for brooding and raising chicks. My waterfowl list for the trip included a dozen species. Passerines like yellow-rumped warblers and dark-eyed juncos were abundant. These two species (e.g. yellow-rumps and juncos) are some of the first to show up for spring, and are a great indicator the season is here for good!
Waterfowl are pursued by Subsistence Hunters as they migrate north. Each spring it provides a new source of meat (in a region that depends on 85% of its meat from the wild) to replenish stores until the salmon arrive in July. In particular white-fronted geese, canada geese, and snow geese are shot. When I was touring around the village I found a place where the birds were plucked. An unusual (for the region) strong north wind blew the features onto the trees and ground. It looked like a massive and violent pillow fight had been staged there. I got to share in the bounty of goose soup, which was delicious!
The breakup for the Yukon River is a celebrated event by all who live on it and depend on it. River travel is fast, and gives residents access to some resources which have been unavailable since the previous fall. Although the Yukon has been clear for over a week large chunks of ice on the banks demonstrate the power it took to push them there and are a testament to how thick/resilient the ice can be! Over 8 feet of ice in some regions.
The leaves have not appeared on the trees yet, but spring pasque flowers, and willows have started to bloom. The bright yellow stems of the willows caught my eyes and were at stark contrast with the surrounding gray bark of the aspens. Especially eye catching was the contrast of the yellow stems and the blue sky! The base of the willows were dirty and marred where river water had washed over them just a few days earlier.
Spring is certainly in the air in Fort Yukon. Overall, it’s one of the ‘last’ springs to arrive in North America. I leave you with a still, spring sunset in one of the river braids of the Yukon. I hope you are having a great spring!
I have spent my last couple of days in Fort Yukon, Alaska. I was gathering data for my thesis as well as some data to fulfill some granting deliverables. As proof of that I offer you this key piece of evidence:
This was my first time into truly remote Alaska. In fact, Fort Yukon has no roads into it. It is far from the system of pavement which means your options are dogsled, snowmachine or airplane. I chose the latter. An interesting tidbit – villagers do drive cars, and the cars get there by barge when the Yukon is open and flowing. The flight up to Fort Yukon was very special because I got to experience the sunrise coming over the mountains. I attempted to capture the sunrise in my flight to Fort Yukon video. I will just warn you that the technique I used was a bit ‘experimental’. I wanted to shoot the video as a timelapse so I could get the sun rising as well as the plane in flight. That part worked; the sun definitely rises and the plane certainly moves. However, I didn’t account for the jerkiness of the plane when using a timelapse. I’ve done my best to edit to a smoother product, but you’ll still get tossed around a bit! It isn’t for the weak stomach :p. For a ‘smoother’ version of the flight, have a look at the flight from Fort Yukon to Fairbanks at the bottom which I think is a very cool video.
Small Antedote. For those who know my woes with laptops. I got off the plane in Fort Yukon and jumped into a vehicle with a stranger. Her name was Hannah. She thought I was someone else and I thought she was just picking me up for the office. So, off we went, but neither of us knew where we had to go :S . It didn’t take me long to figure out that I should head back to the airport and meet up with my actual pick-up. I had extra incentive though, I had left my laptop ON THE PLANE wedged between the plane and the seat. I talked to the Fort Yukon office and they weren’t able to contact the plane, but did put in a contact to the next village. That was lucky enough. On top of that I was fortunate that my plane was to return in 1.5 hours to pick up some freight before heading back to Fairbanks. When they arrived at 11:25 (and yes, minutes count when you are watching the time so closely) I was OVERJOYED to see the pilot step out of the plane with my laptop. Crisis averted!
THE FLIGHT TO FYU (Smoother flight at bottom 🙂 )
MY GRADUATE WORK
The purpose of this trip was to gather data for my graduate work. I’ll put down my current proposed thesis, so someday I can look back and read this. I’m sure I will have a good laugh. Currently I’m looking at competition between humans and wolves for the common resource of moose, in the Yukon Flats of interior Alaska. In this area moose populations are as low as anywhere in the U.S. or even the world. These low moose densities are unexpected, with exceptional habitat existing throughout the Yukon Flats. Moose in this system are thought to be controlled by wolves, which keep them at densities well below the carrying capacity of the land. This has been dubbed the ‘predator pit’. To get at competition I’m utilizing a collared wolf dataset through collaboration with the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) from the Council of Athabascan Government. Those data – which comprise the purpose of my trip to Fort Yukon- were collected during interviews in the mid-2000s and serve as a useful tool to understand landscape usage by the villagers. My intent is to understand where they harvest moose. By comparing the two datasets using resource selection functions in GIS I am hoping to gain insights into competition based on how humans and wolves use the landscape when pursuing moose. I can’t thank enough CATG and FWS the opportunity to work with their data.
FORT YUKON AT NIGHT
Fort Yukon is a really cool place. Due to its location (the middle of nowhere) the night-scapes that occur there are second to none (but probably tied with many). I went out into the night and wandered around Fort Yukon passing through snow covered trees and by quiet houses. The full moon lit the landscape up so that in these pictures it appears to be daytime. You certainly could have read a book by it!
Unfortunately I did not get to partake or see much of life at the Fort Yukon. I spent most of my time indoors going through data and maps. However, before leaving I got a small tour of town. Here’s just some of the things to catch my eye.
By the way, I had this pronounced to me many times. If there is someone reading this who could phonically write it out for me that would be a huge help. I’m having a hard time getting it.
THE FLIGHT TO FAI (smoother video! :D)
The flight home was a much different flight. It started out clear, but then below us a cloud bank formed. However, just after we got past the Yukon Flats (as denoted by a rising mountain range) the skies cleared again and created a beautiful juxtaposition of clouds, light, and shade.
On the way home I met a really unique and talented individual. His name is Donovan Felix and he is currently on a mission to revive native tanning practices (brain tanning) in the interior. He was pulling on a chunk of moose hide while the flight was happing to make it supple part of his cargo for the trip was a caribou hide he had just been given. He specializes in caribou, but in recent years has started tanning moose asl well. Donovan is obviously very passionate about what he does and his mission. He was constantly giving me tips on how to tan hides, and what he was doing with the hide. In fact, what he is is doing is so novel that he was covered by www.culturesurval.org . Click the link to read the story. Also, if you are interested in learning about brain tanning UAF holds a workshop! http://www.uaf.edu/iac/traditional-learning/animal-hide-tanning/. This is certainly something that I will be looking out for this spring. I ended up giving Donovan a ride to town after we got off the plane.
The planes that bring people back and forth are not that big. They are carry as much freight and cargo as they do people. At each stop cargo is loaded and unloaded quickly and planes do not stay around long. I must say though their service is excellent and is needed by the villages. During my ride to Fort Yukon I sat next to Dr. Pepper and milk. Here’s a picture of the plane that got me back to Fairbanks.
Here’s the last bit. I’m really happy how this video turned out of the flight to Fairbanks. Have a look and let me know what you think!
This weekend marked the beginning of the Yukon Quest race which started in Fairbanks this year, and ends in Whitehorse, YT. Mushers navigate the Yukon River as it winds its way into Canada. One of the racers has been doing this race for nearly 20 years. At 1000 miles per year that’s 20,000 miles just in this race; incredibly that equates to almost a trip around the earth! These mushers are incredibly dedicated to the sport and their dogs. On top of that they have to be tough as nails. In 2010 Hans Gatt ran the course in 9 days 00 hours and 26 minutes. That’s averaging well over 100 miles per day! There is a great guide for the race which can be found here : YUKON QUEST MEDIA GUIDE. However, I thought I would pull some information out of there that I though was cool!
“Mushing” is a general term for any transport method powered by dogs and includes carting, pulka, scootering, sled dog racing, skijoring, freighting, and weight pulling. More specifically, it implies the use of one or more dogs to pull a sled on snow. The term is thought to come from the French word marche, or go. It is the command to the team to commence pulling—Mush! Although this term is seldom used in the modern day, it still gives name to the sport.
The Yukon Quest Trail links together a series of shorter travel routes that were the only means of winter travel over a century ago. When Yukon Quest founders began looking for a route to follow between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, they resurrected many historic routes and combined them to cover 1,000 miles.
The Yukon Quest Trail dates back to 1870s to the Forty Mile Gold Rush Era. The Iditarod dates back to the 1925 Serum Run from Nenana to Nome
There is a great resource of tracking the status of the mushers here : LIVE TRACKING!
The day was a tremendous community event. Crowds of people lined up to watch the mushers take off. Each time the announcer would begin the countdown and the crowd would yell “10…9…8…7..6!…5!!…4!!…3!!!….2!!!!!…..1!!!….GOOOOO!!!!!” and the dogs would take off down 2nd ave. All in all 18 teams were launched in this fashion. It is amazing how excited the dogs are. If you have been around sled dogs about to run you know they yip and howl until they are finally released. They jump in the air and are constantly pulling at their harnesses. I learned at the race that these smaller dogs are made for distance, and larger dogs are used for shorter sprints.I compiled this video of the starting day. I think it does a pretty good job of capturing the community of the event, but also how excited the dogs are!
Here’s the route and profile from the race! 1000 miles and some elevation to boot.There is a race within this race as well. At Dawson city there is a required 36 hour layover to rest the mushers and inspect the health of the dogs. The first musher to Dawson City get 4 ounces of Yukon gold!
After going through my pictures I was pretty entertained by the dog faces that I had captured. Some of them are humorous, and one (you’ll know which!) looks just down-right ferocious. All of the dogs were very, very excited to head out provided a cacophony of barking. If you have a caption for any of these, I would love to hear them!
HATS! HATS! HATS!
One of the things on display were a variety of fur garments. I only took a couple pictures when the opportunity came and I wasn’t point my camera at the dogs. Very cool to see some creative furry headresses though.