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Denali National Park wolves: Viewed by many, trapped by a few

Frank Rue

In a 4-3 vote in March 2010, the Alaska Board of Game removed its wolf trapping and hunting closure along the east and northeast boundaries of Denali National Park. As commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, I supported the original decision by the Board of Game to close this area outside the park to the taking of wolves. It was the right thing to do then, and the current Board should accept the public petition recently put before it to reverse its decision because it is the right thing to do now.

The wolves in the pack that frequents the eastern boundary of Denali National Park are the most viewed wild wolves in Alaska and probably the most viewed wild wolves on the planet. Unfortunately, they occasionally move across the park boundary and are vulnerable to trapping and hunting.

Last winter, with trapping along the park boundary legal again, a trapper killed the only breeding female of the boundary pack, and the pack produced no pups. With its social structure destroyed, the pack dispersed and left the territory vacant. Eventually another pack will take over this territory, but in the meantime, there will be a significant loss in viewing opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people just so that one or two trappers have a slightly larger area to trap.

Over 400,000 people, including many Alaskans, visited Denali this year. The incredible scenery and the possibility of seeing wild wolves, sheep, moose and bears is what draws people to Denali. Three years ago I visited Denali in September. The mountain was out and the fall colors were spectacular. I saw sheep, moose and wolves. I returned to the Park this September and saw all of the same incredible sights, except I saw no wolves. There was a palpable emptiness to the area near the entrance where the boundary pack had been active and where I had seen wolves during my last visit.

As an avid hunter and wildlife viewer I realize there are no guarantees when it comes to harvesting or viewing wildlife. But my experience and sense of emptiness when I visited Denali this fall is borne out by Park Service statistics. In recent years visitors had a roughly one in four chance of seeing a wolf. This year, with the boundary pack gone and wolf numbers down in the rest of the park, the chance of seeing a wolf went down to near zero.

So here’s the question, should we give 400,000 visitors a reasonable chance of seeing a wild wolf in Denali National Park, or one or two trappers a slightly larger area to trap? Alaska is a big place; we have room to accommodate wolf trapping and hunting and wolf viewing. The eastern and northeastern boundary of Denali National Park is a place where we Alaskans should give wolf viewing the priority.

I urge the Board of Game to accept the public petition before it to take up this issue and rescind its decision to open the area along the eastern and northeastern boundary of Denali National Park to wolf trapping.

Frank Rue was commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from 1995 to 2002.

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