Parks Canada and local conservation groups are hoping a new wolf pack will begin to establish itself in the Bow Valley in and around Banff National Park.
It follows the well-publicized collapse of the troubled Bow Valley pack in 2016.
Six pups were killed — four by trains — and two wolves were shot by parks staff after getting too close to public campsites, eating garbage and food. Another pack member was shot by a hunter after wandering into B.C.
Two remaining wolves left the area but are still living nearby in different parts of the park.
"[It] was a terrible year for the Bow Valley pack. They became food conditioned and we had to destroy two of the wolves. None of the six pups survived and the pack disintegrated," said Parks Canada wildlife ecologist Jesse Whittington.
The pack was reduced to one breeding male and his daughter. The male left the Bow Valley to join another pack in the nearby Spray Valley. The female wolf linked up with a mate this summer and hasn't been spotted recently.
But wolves don't leave vacant territory unclaimed for long and it's hoped a new pack will form in the Bow Valley over the coming months.
"We're curious about what's going to happen," said Whittington. "Either the old male and the pack from the Spray could move back into the Bow Valley, or one of the neighbouring packs might slide in."
- Skating on mountain lakes far from risk free, says Parks Canada expert
- Parks Canada kills 4 bull elk that 'persistently' entered Banff townsite
"In October, there were sightings of three grey and white wolves near Castle Junction, so it's a puzzle in terms of where they came from and whether or not they'll stick around," Whittington added.
Whittington says it won't take long for a pack to establish itself in the valley again once they stay in the area for a while.
"If you have a male and female who hook-up and have pups, all of a sudden you could have a pack of seven wolves, and if those pups survive and have pups again, you get a pretty large pack," he said.
Conservationists are watching what's happening closely, too, saying wolves are essential to the ecosystem, regulating populations of other animals over huge territories.
"We don't want to be one of those communities where we don't have large carnivores so we get an over-abundance of animals like deer and elk that then causes negative impacts because they over-eat their food resources," said Jodi Hilty, president and chief scientist with Canmore-based conservation group Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
"The biggest challenge for wolves here is they are traversing a heavily human-occupied landscape and they get in trouble for getting too familiar with people, people might be feeding them," she said.
Another major risk for wolves, and many other animals that call the park home, are busy and fast roads, namely the Trans-Canada Highway.
"We're very fortunate that Banff has these great overpasses and underpasses, but once you get east of Banff, there are no more of those and that's why we've had wolf mortality on the highway recently," said Hilty.
Two wolves were killed on the Trans-Canada near Canmore in November.
- Rogue raccoon who hitched into Banff captured and killed
- Shipping containers being converted into staff housing in Banff
Despite the many issues facing the animals, Hility says she remains optimistic when it comes to the long-term future for wolves in the Bow Valley.
"People here and visitors really want wolves to make it, and so we can take that positive attitude and work together," she said.