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Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Why wolves aren't all that different from humans

Professional wildlife tracker, author and photographer David Moskowitz sees many parallels between humans and wolves: adaptation to their environment, eating salmon as part of their diet, and living at lower elevations where food is more abundant and the weather more acceptable than at higher, less friendly elevations.
"We're animals. We want the same kind of things that wolves want," he said.
"Wolves are the only social land carnivores in the Pacific Northwest. They live together, similar to humans. The pack is the extended family. Wolves travel similar to our ancestors.
"The breeding pair generates offspring, and an occasional brother or sister stays with the pack. They protect their young and bond as a family, and communicate through (sound)," Moskowitz said.
"Its lifestyle changes depending on where it lives in the Pacific Northwest. Its range has contracted and expanded many times, sometimes driven by massive changes, including ice ages and extermination."
Moskowitz's knowledge of wolves is packed into "Wolves in the Land of Salmon" ($30), an impressive book that focuses on the Pacific Northwest.
Wolves have been introduced into Washington state but there's an uncertainty about the future. How will wolves impact ranchers? Where will they expand their range?
Wolves are carnivores that have evolved to chase down, kill and eat large animals.
"They are social so they are efficient killers, although not as efficient as large cats, which are not social animals. They consume their kill quickly because there is a lot of competition out there for carcasses," he said.
Most of us have 'learned' that "wolves only kill the sick and weak," but that's not always the case.
"Sometimes male elk are more likely to be taken. Big male elks are most vulnerable during breeding season. They have to focus on breeding and fighting competitors, and are less likely to see danger.
"By the end of the season, they are malnourished and vulnerable. They take bigger risks to get food," Moskowitz said.
Wolves eat moose, too, taking advantage of the increasing numbers of moose as they expand their range into wolf territory. Clearcuts create large swaths of bushes and shrubs that attract moose.
When large animals aren't available, wolves focus on voles, squirrels, hares, grouse, geese, raccoons, otters, beavers and salmon, the last another example of a wolf's ability to adapt.
Some wolves' range is determined by water and tides. They dig clams, catch crabs and chew barnacles off rocks.
Wolves fish for salmon by going out into shallow waters and coming from behind the fish, reaching down and grabbing it. During the fall runs, most of the wolf pack diet is salmon.
"Typically, they eat the head or just the brain. One hypothesis is that it's like eating the icing off the cake. The brain is the most nutritional part of the salmon.
"The second hypothesis is that there's a parasite on the salmon of the West Coast that can be fatal to canines. The least likely place to find the parasite is in the head," Moskowitz said.
Wolf kills amount to a scavenger subsidy. Ravens and coyotes benefit the most but the cleanup crew includes crows and eagles.
Before being re-introduced, Washington state's last wolves to be eradicated were in the Olympic Peninsula. Marmots provided much of their diet. Almost all of the marmot population is in the Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest, where marmots are protected from hunting.
"It turns out that the coyotes do the hunting. Their range now includes the Olympic Peninsula. They weren't in Northwest Washington. Wolves' range contracted, coyotes' range expanded," Moskowitz said.
"Coyotes are good at killing marmots. Eighty percent of marmot deaths are by coyotes."
How far will wolves expand their range? That story has yet to be written but you can be sure that some parts will be documented by David Moskowitz (davidmoskowitz.net).
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.
Story tags » Wildlife HabitatWildlife Watching

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