Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest park and the largest wilderness area in the National Park system, yet lacks baseline information on many of the taxa occurring within its boundaries. The management of animal populations in Alaska is different, as many Alaskan parks provide for subsistence hunting within the park, and sport hunting in the preserve, as part of the enabling legislation under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) passed in 1980. ANILCA protects the rights of "customary and traditional" users and requires the Secretary of Interior to allow use of wildlife for subsistence needs. Wildlife harvest is managed cooperatively between federal and state agencies.
The National Park Service has recently started a detailed Inventory and Monitoring program for all parks under the Natural Resource Challenge funding from Congress. These programs set up a series of networks throughout the National Park Service--Wrangell-St. Elias is a part of the Central Alaska Network along with Denali National Park and Preserve and Yukon Charley National Preserve. As these networks become active, many new inventory and monitoring programs will be initiated to address resource needs in the parks. Detailed information on those programs will become available at a later date.
Animal populations in Wrangell-St. Elias have always been scarce and the human history in the basin has been sparse. Caribou were the dominant ungulate in the area with populations throughout what is now the park. Moose and other game were less plentiful but still form an important part of a subsistence diet for communities in the basin. Along the coastal zones of the park, the Tlingit peoples hunted seals in Disenchantment and Icy Bays. These populations are thought to be declining and yet are still considered an integral part of the Tlingit subsistence diet. Other mammals exist in the Copper River Basin that forms much of the lowlands around the southwestern side of the park and preserve.
The park's coastal resources include the Yakutat area (Icy and Disenchantment Bays) and the Malaspina Forelands. Wrangell-St. Elias has over 1,000 acres of inter-tidal communities and over 125 miles of coastline. These coastal waters support an abundance of fish, invertebrates and algae that provide a food base for a variety of marine mammals such as harbor seals ( Phoca vitulina ), Stellar's sea lions ( Eumetopias jubatus ), sea otters ( Lontra canadensis ), Dall porpoises ( Phocoena dalli ), and Orcas ( Orcinus orca ). Coastal lakes and streams provide spawning grounds for four of the five Pacific salmon species as well as habitat for steelhead ( Oncorhynchus mykiss ), cutthroat trout ( O. clarkii ) and Dolly Varden char ( Salvelinus namaycush ). Many of these species have commercial value and global industrialization and commerce directly affects populations in Wrangell St. Elias, even though the human population centers are distant.
Coastal resources are also rich for nesting shorebirds and many passerines and songbirds migrate to the park during the long summer days. Two major migratory routes for birds cross the park and many neotropical migrants nest in the wetlands and tundra. An abundant invertebrate fauna supports this large variety of small passerines as well as amphibians and insectivorous rodents ( Sorex spp ). The park also contains an incredible diversity of dipertans (flies and their allies), odonata (dragonflies and their allies), a small population of wood frogs ( Rana spp ) and even salamaders ( Tariches spp ) who burrow deep in the soils to avoid the deep arctic winters. Ample dipertan species are believed to be one of the principal pressures for migratory movements of many of the larger mammal species out of the park area; historically the large game in the park has been sparse, supporting a small Ahtna population for several thousand years before European explorers arrived.