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Denali National Park and Preserve Ecology

Denali National Park and Preserve was protected in the early part of the 20th century to preserve a living landscape, where visitors could see free-roaming wildlife against a spectacular backdrop of snow-capped mountains. It is a large park - 2.4 million acres. Except for a single road, the park is unfragmented and largely free from boundary encroachments. To protect and preserve this landscape, the National Park Service must keep track of - monitor - the landscape and the wildlife that live in it, improving our understanding and management of natural ecosystems. Monitoring enhances the National Park Service's ability to detect and document resources changes and to better understand the forces driving those changes.

In 1991, several parks representing different biogeographic provinces were selected to serve as prototypes for development of Long-Term Ecological Monitoring programs. Denali National Park and Preserve was selected to develop and test methods for monitoring in subarctic parks. The goal of the program is to help park management protect the resources of Denali by providing the ecological context for resource preservation decisions.

The Long-Term Monitoring Program at Denali National Park and Preserve is attempting to understand the ecosystems on a landscape scale.

Monitoring projects include:

  • Detecting landscape-level changes in the vegetation cover of the Park that occur over decadal time scales.

  • Determining trends in occupancy rate, laying rate, success rate, mean brood size, and overall population productivity of Golden Eagles and Gyrfalcons in Denali National Park and Preserve.

  • Assessing spatial and temporal variation in passerines at a parkwide scale

  • Monitoring avian productivity and survivorship.

  • Providing a thorough and continuing assessment of the status and trends of the Park's wolf population and the populations of their major ungulate prey species.

  • Documenting the dynamics of small mammal populations along the Denali Park Road Corridor, including abundance and spatial patterns.

  • Monitoring winter snowpack trends in order to better understand the relationships with the ecological ecosystems within the park and to provide data to park scientists, park management, and to other researchers for numerous research and management applications.

  • Monitoring and recording weather conditions in order to identify long and short-term trends, provide reliable climate data to other researchers, and to participate in large scale climate monitoring and modeling efforts.

  • Monitoring glacier trends and mass balance.

Recently, National Park Service efforts have combined prototype parks like Denali into networks of parks that are located in similar ecological regions. Denali is part of the Central Alaska Network, which also includes Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. A network-wide monitoring effort is being developed, which will attempt to detect changes in ecosystems across all three parks.

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