On a recent trip to the North Coast Trail and Cape Scott Provincial Park, my son, my partner, and I frequently encountered tracks on the beaches that resembled the tracks of a large dog. I was aware that there were wolf prints and had seen them before in Cape Scott Park. These are one of those creatures that you know are there, but are very rarely seen.
The wolves in Cape Scott Provincial Park are a subspecies of the grey wolf found on the mainland of BC. Canis lupus crassodon, the Vancouver Island Grey Wolf, is endemic to Vancouver Island, meaning that it is a native species there. Populations of these wolves, found mostly in the northern third of Vancouver Island in the sparsely populated areas as well as in Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds, have diminished over the past few decades. It is now an endangered species and if the last of the Vancouver Island wolves die, it will be virtually extinct. Two Vancouver Island wolves live in captivity, one grey, and one white.
I had seen tracks before on a previous visit to Cape Scott Park. There were fresh tracks around our tents every morning for three days at Nissen Bight and several tracks on the trail to the trailhead. I knew they were around on this recent trip.
These wolves live in packs of from 5 to 35, but I have only seen one set of tracks at a time. They are high-level predators, consuming mostly black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk. One of the locals from Port Hardy told us that the deer populations were down dramatically in the last couple of years. This is putting pressure on the wolf populations. When larger game disappears, wolves range over a large area and take a smaller game that they would not ordinarily take. The declining population of Vancouver Island Marmots is being blamed on wolves. Whether they are taking more small rodents is unclear. There was a significant amount of scat on the trail in Cape Scott Park, which could have been either cougar or wolf scat, although the abundance of the scat and of wolf tracks seems to indicate it was the wolf. Many decaying piles had significant amounts of beach gravel, leading me to speculate that the animals were grazing off the abundance of creatures at the shore.
On our walk to the light station from Nels Bight, we followed a set of fresh wolf tracks for a while on the beach. The tracks were below the last high tide line, so we know they were fresh. Our visit with Harvey and Todd, the keepers at the Cape Scott Light Station, gave us a lot of information about Cape Scott. They reported having seen wolves on the beaches at dawn and dusk on numerous occasions.
The wolf “encounters” punctuated our visit. We saw an abundance of bald eagles, at least fifteen different eagles a day. Add to this the population of grouse, robins, kingfishers, ravens, owl, and woodpeckers, and many species we did not know, just the bird watching possibilities are huge. The bears were similar to the wolf. We followed tracks for most of a day on beaches but never saw a bear. Other animals we did see are a river otter, mink, chipmunk, seals, and sea lions. Although there are year-round gray whales off this coast, large seas make it difficult to see or hear them, and we had some pretty big season our visit. Other sea life that is abundant here are Orca whales, but they travel through mostly in July and August, humpback whales in October, and sea otter in the winter months. One thing is guaranteed, however, and that is that visiting the North Coast Trail and Cape Scott Park gives a huge opportunity to see any or all of these animals in their native habitat.