Alaska's Wolves need our help
Action needed by , 2012
Sierra Club members are wilderness lovers and lovers of wildlife, but if you plan on visiting Denali National Park next year - and perhaps even in the next several years, your chances of seeing wolves in the park are slimmer than they would have been if the State of Alaska had acted on your behalf.
In March, 2010, despite overwhelming support for the expansion of the Denali buffer zone, an area just outside the eastern park boundary that prohibited trapping of wolves, particularly habituated park wolves, the Alaska Board of Game (BoG) voted to completely eliminate the decade-old buffer zone. And the Board added a moratorium on Denali buffer zone proposals for six years.
There were ten proposals either supporting the then current buffer zone or requesting that it be expanded. Support for the buffer zone was overwhelming, including biologists, local residents, local and state conservation groups, and the park service, which pointed out that the park's wolf population was the lowest in over twenty years.
Supporters pointed out that the Grant Creek Pack wolves, the most frequently viewed wolves in the park, and the pack frequenting the area in question, were habituated because of their location in the national park, adding that wolves know no artificial boundaries. They also stressed that hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the park annually to see wildlife, many specifically to see wolves. A handful of trappers opposed the buffer zone.
Nevertheless, not only did the BoG fail to expand the buffer zone, but by a vote of 4-3, it eliminated the buffer zone. One of the opposing votes was that of newly appointed Al Barrette, whose appointment was later not confirmed by the state legislature.
In May, 2012, a trapper, using a horse he shot for bait, legally trapped and killed the last breeding female of the Grant Creek Pack. At that time, with the future of the Grant Creek Pack in doubt, supporters of the buffer zone urged the Alaska Department of Fish & Game to issue an emergency closure to any further wolf take from state lands in the area of the former buffer zone. The Department, stating that the issue was a "social" one rather than a biological one, refused to take action.
It is now known that the Grant Creek Pack did, indeed, have no pups this year. With no pups to care for, the pack abandoned its historic den site, which was close to the park road and which had provided increased opportunity for viewing by park visitors. The pack lost much of its former social cohesion and the long-term fate of the pack remains unknown.
Visitor viewing of wolves in Denali National Park was significantly decreased in the summer of 2012 compared to previous years, in part due to the impacts of the take of the last breeding female in the Grant Creek Pack, an habituated wolf from a national park who came to the bait in the former buffer zone. This reduced visitor experience may result in direct economic loss to Alaska in future years, and it will result in a lost opportunity to view a wolf in the wild for thousands of visitors from Alaska, from the rest of the US, and from all over the world.
Only two trappers still actively trap in the former buffer zone area; one of the two does not even live in the vicinity.
The main reason I joined the Sierra Club years go was that I wanted land to be protected for wildlife. I backpacked in Denali National Park annually for over twenty-five years in hopes of seeing wolves in the wild. The routes I chose were in the territory of the Grant Creek Pack. Although I never saw a wolf while I was on foot, I saw wolf prints so fresh that the dirt on the edges was still crumbling. I spent many nights falling asleep in my tent to the howls of wolves. I was gratified to walk in the pack's territory. When I finally saw a wolf from a tour bus in the park, I was elated; I can still picture that wolf in my mind, and joyfully call up that memory every day.
Will future visitors to Denali National Park be denied the presence of wolves in this frequented area simply because the State of Alaska refuses to re-establish the buffer zone? As of this printing, no one knows. BoG members have received the petition and have thirty days either to schedule the petition for a meeting or deny the petition.
The wolves in Denali National Park are a national resource - a national treasure - yet viewing opportunities for the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors to the park are now in the hands of the Alaska Board of Game. Their decision will affect the lives of all of us who visit Denali National Park...as well as those of us who dream of doing so.
- Tina Brown
--Unfortunately, the Board of Game has voted down our petition. Denali wolves are not safe to recover. -- (amended 9/18/12)
The last hope for the near future is a petition submitted by several conservation groups and key individuals to the Alaska Board of Game. The petition requests the Board of Game to adopt the following emergency rule:
Unit 20C and 20A: The area west of a line connecting the moody Bridge (George Parks Highway MP 242.9) with the southeast corner of Township 115, Range 9W, and bounded by Denali National Park on three sides, including the former Stampede Closed Area and Nenana Canyon Closed Area, is closed to the taking of wolves.
We are seeking support for our petition, so please take a few minutes and send a note to the Board of Game saying that you recognize that wildlife viewing in Denali is a valuable economic activity in Alaska, and that you agree with the petitioners who have asked the State to close wolf hunting and trapping along the eastern boundary of the park to protect this valuable resource.
Remember that the board does not accept email, so you must submit your comments via regular mail or FAX!
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Boards Support Section, P.O. Box 115526, Juneau, AK 99811-5526, or by fax to (907) 465-6094.
Please call Governor Parnell 269-7450, and Lieutenant Governor Treadwell 269-7460, to let them know what you think too!
Beneficiaries of the requested of Requested Emergency Rule include (among others):
- Park visitors who want to see wolves in the wild (about 400,000+ annual visitors);
- Tour operators and the Alaska tourism industry;
- Trappers statewide, because the public will not develop anti-harvest opinions from seeing injured wolves and learning of wolf harvest adjacent to park boundaries;
- People who value the concept of conservation areas for wildlife.
© copyright Sierra Club 1892-2014