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Sunday, November 14, 2021

Board of Game Trapped the Golden Goose

Photo by Gordon Haber

…and by “goose,” I mean wolf.

For many years, I owned a gift shop in downtown Anchorage. There was nothing more fun than talking to sparkly-eyed tourists who’d just been on their bucket list adventure of a lifetime – a trip to Denali Park. I got to hear about the scenery, the back breaking 12-hour bus ride that they wouldn’t have missed for the world, and most of all, the wildlife – bears, moose, foxes, and most of all – wolves. Those who got to see a wolf, out in the wild, were changed. Sure they liked the bears and the moose, but something about a sighting a wild wolf changed people. They’d buy wolf song CDs, and silver wolf earrings, and little plush wolf toys, and posters of wolves, and wolf figurines… You get the idea.

In 2010, the Alaska Board of Game voted 4-3 to open the Northeast periphery of the Denali National Park and preserve to wolf trapping. What this meant was that an area around the National Park, referred to as the “buffer zone” no longer existed. Gone. The buffer zone was put into place to help preserve the wolves that live in the park – a huge draw for tourists and wildlife photographers. In recent years, pack leaders wandered out of the park and fell victim to trapping, devastating the social order of the pack, and raising the hackles of wildlife organizations, conservationists, residents who love wildlife, and the tourism industry.

The buffer zone had helped to keep these Denali wolves alive, because wolves don’t know where the park boundary ends, and the danger zone begins, and where they need to be to stay safe. These packs, which have been studied since the 1930s, have a natural range which doesn’t exactly conform to the boundary of the park. And now the northeast periphery, which was formerly a protected area, is open for trapping thanks to that 2010 vote by the Board of Game.

The decision ran completely counter to what park authorities had asked for. The federal authorities had recommended expanding the buffer zone to protect the wolves that wandered outside the park’s boundaries. The buffer zone wolves were the ones typically seen by busloads of tourists who visit the park every summer.

In 2010, when the buffer zone was removed, the wolf population was the lowest it had been since 1987, park authorities said. While they didn’t know for sure why the numbers had plummeted, they said there had already been trapping pressure on the animals.

So, what better way to remedy too much trapping than by… adding some more trapping?

There were about 70 wolves left in the 6-million-acre park in 2010. There are about 400,000 visitors who come to Denali every year.  This year, hardly any of those visitors saw a wolf. Sightings were at al all-time low.

I wonder why.

Park officials have new verified what we were afraid would happen after the Board of Game eliminated the buffer zone – that wolf viewing inside the park would decline precipitously.  The Alaska Center for the Environment, along with several others, have filed a petition with the Board of Game asking for an emergency closure in the former buffer zone for all wolf trapping and hunting this coming season. It is our hope that an emergency closure in this small area will help stabilize and re-establish the pack that has been devastated.

Photographers and tourists can shoot the same wolf thousands of times. Hunters can only do it once.

What you can do

Please send a note to the Board of Game telling them that you recognize that wildlife viewing in Denali is a valuable boon to Alaska’s economy, and that you agree with the petitioners who have asked the State to close wolf hunting and trapping on the eastern boundary that used to be the buffer zone.

Please remember that for your inconvenience, the Board of Game does not accept emails. So you’ll actually have to send them snail mail or use an ancient piece of technology called “the fax.” Most people won’t do this, which means it’s much more important that YOU do.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Boards Support Section
PO Box 115526
Juneau, AK 99811-5526

or fax to 907-465-6094



6 Responses to “Board of Game Trapped the Golden Goose”
  1. Nancy Wagner says:

    Was there in June. Thrilled to see TWO wolves right in front of our bus! No one let on what a rare sight it was. I sent a letter off to the board. Can only hope we help. BTW I tried to send a fax but couldn’t get it to go through.

  2. NickWI says:

    the feds have the right idea. the buffer zone should be expanded, if it means increasing the size of the preserve then so be it. the more [rotectio n the better. humans should not be hunting wolves, as we dont eat them, and to the ranchersw who lose sheep to them, well guys thats just how nature workks, and what happens when you infringe on the wolves habitat, some of your cattle cows or sheep become a snack.. the proper response is to take thayt into consideration, and have smaller groups, and use less land.. wolves dont know the difference between pubic and private propertym they follow thier instincts to where the food is..humasns, who should knbow better, should always keep that in mind..

  3. Mark says:

    We in Alaska have the last chance to do this wilderness thing right. We still have intact, functioning, robust natural ecosystems that act as a bank for the rest of the environment. We are constantly making withdrawls, running a hugh deficit that will be paid by future generations. To end it all won’t doesn’t take expansive oil spills, devastating mining accidents or other major catastrophes, just the seeming small decisions of the asshat class that seeks to maintain a romantic wild west vision of what wildness is and our place in it.
    I will send along another note to the board for them to file away.

  4. Tina Brown says:

    Thank you, Jeanne, for spreading the word!

  5. George says:

    Are you aware that there a 6 documented wolf packs within the city of Anchorage….Several that in the past few years have threatened people. It is great to have them in Denali, I wish they all were there and I think that fish and game should transport the Anchorage wolves to Denali……..

  6. Zyxomma says:

    I don’t have a fax machine, but the bf does. When I see him this weekend, I’ll send my fax. Of course, I was part of the (failed) petition drive to expand the buffer zone. I’ve read many posts here about the out-to-lunch BoG, so none of this surprises me.

    I have seen a wild wolf. It is awe-inspiring. That was in the days before digital cameras, so no photo, but i’ll never forget it as long as I live, and I plan on living a long life.

    When you craft your letter or fax, remember to include the FACT that intact ecosystems require top predators in order to thrive, whether it’s wolves in Denali or sharks in the ocean. Humans should not be the only top predator, particularly since we don’t eat wolves.

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